It might be understandable that Ryan McDonagh seems distracted on Saturday night. When he looks across the ice to the visitor’s bench, he will see many familiar faces as the Nashville Predators host his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, at Bridgestone Arena (Nov. 19). McDonagh played for the Lightning from 2018-2022, helping them win two Stanley Cup Championships along the way.
His departure from the Lightning was amicable, as he was a victim of Tampa’s salary cap issues. In July of 2022, McDonagh agreed to waive his no-trade clause and be traded to the Predators for Phillippe Myers and Grant Mishmash. In helping the Lightning manage their cap issues, the Predators picked up a player who many thought would help the team; he is a proven winner and leader who eats up more than 20 minutes in ice time every game. Now, as McDonagh is starting to hit his stride with the Predators, he will face his former teammates for the first time in the regular season.
The Lightning Miss Their Former Leader
In addition to what the 33-year-old could do on the ice, it is off the ice where his presence will be missed the most. During the preseason, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman talked about McDonagh’s departure. “You don’t replace a guy like that. He was one of the biggest warriors on ice that I’ve seen, blocking shots for fun and making big-time plays, and a good leader in the locker room” (from ‘Loss of Ryan McDonagh still stings as Lightning open camp,’ Tampa Bay Times, Sept. 21, 2022).
McDonagh also made contributions on the ice, as he posted 99 points with 20 goals and 79 assists, 529 blocks, and a plus-74 rating in 267 regular-season games in Tampa Bay. He was the Lightning’s top shot blocker and the backbone of the top penalty-kill unit. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native had the third-most ice time on the team, averaging 22 minutes and 27 seconds a game in 2021-22. If you did not think he was a gutsy player, he also played the entire playoffs with a mangled finger.
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It makes sense when Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois said, “If we didn’t live in a flat salary-cap world, it would never have crossed my mind to ask Ryan McDonagh to waive his no-trade clause.” This explains why the Lightning would trade a player with four years remaining on his contract, especially a player who had so much of an impact on a very successful team.
McDonagh Overcomes Early Struggles
Early in the season, the Predators struggled to find cohesive lines on both offense and defense that would play well together. For McDonagh, that meant pairings with Mattias Ekholm and then with Jeremy Lauzon. Neither of these pairings seemed to work as the defense, and the rest of the team struggled, going 3-6-1 in their first 10 games. The lack of chemistry led to poor positioning and undisciplined play. This has led to issues such as taking too many penalties, leading to the Predators uncharacteristically surrendering seven power-play goals during this stretch.
However, a recent change has seen McDonagh starting to perform as he did in Tampa Bay. Head coach John Hynes has started to put the former New York Ranger with Roman Josi on the first defensive group. In Thursday night’s (Nov. 17) 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders, McDonagh was instrumental in helping teammate Roman Josi net four assists. After the game, Hynes commented on the new pairing. “I thought it was McDonagh’s best game that he’s been here. It looks like he and Roman have some good chemistry together. He set up Roman at least 4 or 5 times in the offensive zone.”
Josi also agreed with his head coach’s comments. “He’s such a great player. I mean, just from playing against him for so many years, and he’s unbelievably defensively. He’s got a great hockey sense,” Josi said after the Islanders game. “I mean, there’s a reason he’s won two Stanley Cups. He’s an amazing player, and it was a lot of fun to play with him.” This new pairing has sparked not only all of the defensive pairings but also the entire team.
Smashville hopes that McDonagh will continue to thrive playing with Josi against his former team, which will be the 801st game of his NHL career. Even with the McDonagh facing his former team storyline, the most important aspect of this game is actually how two playoff-caliber teams will play as they attempt to make the 2023 Playoffs and how the experienced veteran can help make that happen for his new team.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)