Lightning GM Steve Yzerman takes a big swing at trade deadline

A very good team gets better, as HC panel analyzes the Tampa Bay Lightning-New York Rangers mega deal, with the Lightning landing J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh right at the deadline.

TAMPA, Fla. – In picking up former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh at 2:45 p.m. ET or so, the Tampa Bay Lightning and GM Steve Yzerman took a big swing at the trade deadline.

If a deadline day can have a winner, Yzerman was it, at least among the buyers.

Yzerman was able to piece together a deal with the Blueshirts’ GM Jeff Gorton that sent McDonagh and centre J.T. Miller south for a fairly significant bundle of players and futures: Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden and Libor Hajek – who were selected by Tampa Bay in the first and second rounds of the 2016 draft respectively – a first-round pick this season and a conditional pick in 2019 – a second-rounder that would be upgraded to a first if the Lightning win the Cup this June or next.

Those are a lot of chips to push in, the most attractive being the 25-year-old Namestnikov, who’s on pace to score 30 goals or so this season and has raised his game with arbitration looming.

Still, Yzerman was able to get a rock-solid, all-situations blue-liner at age 28 with almost 100 games of NHL playoff experience and without any history of significant injury. If the GM were picking a player out of a catalogue, given his team’s needs, he’d be looking for McDonagh or a variation thereof.

The Lightning are the league leaders in goal scoring and the power play, led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, is a light show. If there was a target area it was the blue-line and, as Yzerman said, McDonagh “was at the top of the list.”

Yzerman made it sound like he hadn’t really burned up the phone lines in the days leading up to the deadline – in fact, in calling it “relatively quiet up to today.” If the deal was done as quickly as he’d have you believe, then it’s pretty remarkable because he had to move a lot of pieces, none of them Tampa Bay’s most prominent talents on entry-level contracts: centre Brayden Point, 21, and 19-year-old rookie defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.

“I don’t look at it as all-in,” Yzerman said. “Ryan has another year on his contract. He has a lot of hockey left in him. J.T. Miller is two years away from being a free agent. We’re trying to give ourselves a better shot at winning a Stanley Cup. We’re not throwing everything in and, if we don’t win this year, we have to start over.”

Added value for the Bolts: McDonagh will be reconnecting with four players who moved from Manhattan to the Gulf coast the last few seasons. It all fits together so nicely.

Though the Lightning have shown the way in the Atlantic Division from the get-go this season the Toronto Maple Leafs were in a position to draw with two points with a win Monday night. And while the Lightning have been better than OK in this calendar year, 14-10, you had a sense that maybe, maybe they had peaked sometime before Christmas.

The conventional wisdom is that a deadline acquisition refocuses players whose attention might wander in even a good season. McDonagh is both an addition and a catalyst.

McDonagh’s name wasn’t the biggest in chatter leading up to the deadline but you have to suppose that Erik Karlsson of Ottawa (for now) wasn’t likely to move. That rumour, well-founded or not, that Yzerman was chasing Karlsson was an appealing narrative, given that Karlsson had played for Sweden beside the Bolts’ Victor Hedman. And, of course, when he’s right Karlsson is a nonpareil blue-liner – there’s no one quite like him.

Even though Yzerman had a fair number of assets at his disposal, how he’s going to make a Karlsson acquisition work cap-wise was hard to see. Of course, Yzerman declined to dive into any specifics of talks about Karlsson, if there were any at all.

The Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion might have been taking calls or even making them, but the market narrowed on his defenceman if the deal hinged on a team acquiring Bobby Ryan and his onerous contract. For Dorion to get fair value for Karlsson (and to justify the public roasting that would await him) the GM would have needed to have a bunch of his peers queued up and on hold, a heated auction. It always seemed that a deal of this size was more likely to get done at the draft, when teams could undertake a reset.

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