Lightning’s Defense Still Powered by Former Rangers

After the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Ryan Callahan from the New York Rangers at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline, a somewhat weird anomaly occurred on their roster. Over the next five seasons, no less than three former Rangers found themselves suiting up for Bolts throughout the season, with as many as five playing significant ice time at any given point.

Heading into the 2019-20 season, it appears that this streak will be coming to an end, however. After parting ways with four former Rangers in the 2019 off-season, (Callahan, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and J.T. Miller) the Lightning likely won’t hit their three-player minimum for the first time in half a decade.

J.T. Miller Lightning
Just over a year after being acquired at the 2018 Trade Deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks at the 2019 Draft. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

This doesn’t mean that ex-Rangers still won’t play an important role with the franchise, though. With Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk likely playing in a starting role on the Lightning’s blue line, the franchise will still keep it’s New York flavor for the 2019-20 season.

As the new season approaches, what will be the expectations placed upon these former Rangers as the Lightning look to get over their playoff hump?

Can McDonagh Continue His Success?

When the Lightning traded for McDonagh at the 2018 deadline, they gave up a large package of picks and prospects to bring in what they thought would be the final piece to their defensive puzzle.

After spending a full season in Tampa, fans can safely say that McDonagh still is the real deal. Throughout 2018-19, he played a vital role on the blue line, putting together 46 points while eating up more than 22 minutes of ice time each night.

Brian Gibbons, Ryan McDonagh
When Victor Hedman got injured at the start of the 2018-19 season, Ryan McDonagh slotted into the Lightning’s top-defensive pairing perfectly, playing like a Norris-candidate for the better part of a month. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Heading into the 2019-20 season, expectations should be high for McDonagh. He has shown that he still is a top-end defenseman and that the Lightning are the perfect fit for his style of play. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason that he won’t be well worth his seven-year, $47.25 million contract that kicks in this year.

Sure, that contract may not be a steal, but if McDonagh can continue to play 20-plus minutes a night, it will take some of the pressure off of Hedman, which can be invaluable throughout the season.

Will Shattenkirk Bounce Back?

To say that Shattenkirk had a rough couple of years while playing for New York would be a bit of an understatement. After being considered top-end defensemen throughout his career, he hit the proverbial wall with the Rangers, only posting 53 points in two seasons, eventually leading to his buyout.

Despite these struggles, though, Shattenkirk could be in for a renaissance year in Tampa Bay. Not only are the Lightning one of the most offensively gifted teams in the league, but they also feature a deep defensive corps that will allow him to play a smaller role with the franchise.

New York Rangers right wing Pavel Buchnevich Kevin Shattenkirk
Just two seasons after returning home to New York, Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out by the Rangers and eventually signed a one-year contract with the Lightning. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

No longer will Shattenkirk be playing top-line minutes against the NHL’s best, allowing him to get the most out of his 15 to 16 minutes of ice time each night. Even if his defensive game is still suspect, it should be less evident on the third pairing compared to his time on New York’s top-pairing.

Also, given his cheap $1.75 million contract, even if things don’t work with Tampa Bay, the Lightning could trade him to a team in need of a defender, giving the franchise a lot of flexibility. Overall, this signing was nearly perfect on paper, and if things go well, Shattenkirk could be that final piece that puts the Bolts’ defense over the top.

Ex-Rangers Still a Vital Part of Lightning

Even if the Lightning’s roster will no longer be dominated by former Rangers, the Rags still have a noticeable imprint on the franchise’s blue line.

Related: Lightning: 4 Best Contracts for 2019-20

Both McDonagh and Shattenkirk should be key players for the Lightning heading into the 2019-20 season. If they can succeed, it will set the franchise up for a strong regular season and another run at the Stanley Cup.