GOOD NEWS: He Is Back, Former Tampa Bay Lightning Star Return To Play Again…

A familiar face returns to the Bolts blue line | Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning made a big splash Tuesday afternoon when general manager Julien BriseBois announced the team has reacquired defenseman Ryan McDonagh in a trade with the Nashville Predators.

Sending a 2024 seventh-round draft pick and a second-round selection in 2025 to Nashville, the Bolts acquired the two-time Stanley Cup champion along with the Edmonton Oilers’ fourth-round pick in the upcoming 2024 NHL Draft.

“We know what we’re getting,” BriseBois told the media Tuesday. “We know how he fits in. We know that he likes it here. He wants to be here.

Hopefully, we’re able to sign him again beyond these two years at some point to extend our relationship with him on our team.

“He’s going to help us keep the puck out of our net, which is a big priority for our group if we want to have more success. He’s going to provide leadership and the players on the team are going to be really excited to have him back on the team.

“Once we had a chance to digest all that, it made a lot of sense for us to get a deal done with Nashville.”

McDonagh played a massive role in helping Tampa Bay appear in the Stanley Cup Final in three consecutive seasons and was a key cog in the team hoisting the Cup in back-to-back years in 2020 and 2021.

Over the course of those three, long playoff runs, McDonagh blocked 161 shots in 68 games, the most among all NHL skaters during that span.

His 157 hits over those 68 contests were the fourth-most among all NHL defensemen while his 23:10 average time on ice ranked second among all Lightning skaters, trailing only Victor Hedman’s 25:19.

But the Minnesota native brings an ability to impact his team far beyond just his play on the ice. A consummate leader, McDonagh helped mold Tampa Bay defensemen Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev into the everyday, top-four defenders they are today.

His willingness to be a vocal leader both on and off the ice has had coaches like Jon Cooper describe him as “an extension of our coaching staff.”

“Having Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh on our team contributed to Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak becoming the top defensemen that they are,” BriseBois said.

“Obviously, having Victor and Ryan around, now Sergy and Cerny are some of those veteran guys too [that can] help mentor young defensemen coming into the league like Emil (Lilleberg) and like Max Crozier.

“It’s huge. They’re a calming presence out there. All those guys, they care about their teammates. They’re willing to help. They’re willing to talk to these players on the ice and on the bench.

“Mac’s a really vocal guy on the ice. He helps organize everything during play and that makes everyone’s job easier, from the goaltender through the D-corp, all the way to the forwards.”

Set to turn 35 next month, McDonagh said he feels confident with where his game is at. The veteran defenseman skated in 74 games with Nashville last season and led all Predators skaters in plus/minus (plus-19) while ranking second in blocked shots (139) and average time on ice (21:47).

His 32 points trailed only Norris Trophy Finalist Roman Josi, who ranked third among all NHL D-men with 85 on the season.

“I feel really good about my game,” McDonagh said. “Obviously, I got traded to Nashville the first year and we didn’t make the playoffs. It was a crushing feeling, the first time not making the playoffs in my career.

“I was really motivated to have the first long summer of my career where I could really get after it and have a full summer to train and work on things and get healthy and get strong again. I just really attacked the summer in full throttle and was able to get off to a good start with our group here.

“We obviously made a lot of changes with coaching staff and brought in some new players. It was just a lot of rejuvenation back into my game and my career.

“I kind of felt like my old self on the ice, where I was able to control the game a little bit more, play the style that I want to play and be hard to play against. Take care of my own end, but also get involved offensively. I had a little bit of a more offensive role here the past year.

“I feel like my 200-foot game is where I want it to be, but obviously I have another long summer here to, again, attack it and go into a summer healthy. That is huge.

“Obviously, I’m motivated again to help Tampa and having them put their faith in me here, it just motivates you to want to do your part again. It will be another exciting summer for me of training and continuing to improve and be at my best for training camp when it starts in September.”

BriseBois said Tuesday that his top priority entering the offseason was to strengthen the team’s top-four defensemen. With McDonagh back in the mix, the Bolts now have a top four of Hedman, Sergachev, McDonagh and Cernak.

“They’re all big,” BriseBois explained. “They can all skate. For most of the night, we have high-end defensemen on the ice wearing the right jersey. That makes us better.

“I also think that having Ryan on our team is going to make the other players better as well. Just his presence alone with his leadership, his demeanor – those things are hard to quantify, but they exist.

“With regards to the few players that I’ve been able to connect with today, I know they’re all really, really pumped to have Ryan come back within our locker room.”

As pumped as his teammates are to have him back, McDonagh seems just as excited to make his return to Tampa. Having extensive familiarity with the team, city and staff, McDonagh expressed his confidence in the group’s ability to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

“You know as well as I do, that core group is a special group,” McDonagh shared. “To be back with them, it’s hard not to make you believe again that something special can be done once more.

“I don’t really look too in-depth at certain pieces and skillsets and players and everything like that. I’m more looking at the mentality of some of the guys there.

“They’re all competitors and gamers. That’s what you need first and foremost, so that’s what gives me the belief in this group and me wanting to be a part of it once again.

“I can’t help but be excited. The leadership there is obviously still tremendous. Like I said, I called Stammer today. He’s just getting off the ice with Kuch. It’s like, what is it? It’s May 21st today.

How can you not be excited to join a group of guys like that, that are working on their game here after just being bounced in the first round?

“That’s that standard that the coaching staff, management and obviously the players have built there. If you aren’t working all the time to improve, get better and be the best you can be, then they don’t want you to be a part of that room. It’s a great room to be a part of and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Speaking of Tampa Bay’s captain, BriseBois gave an update on the current status of the salary cap and the ongoing negotiations between Stamkos and the Lightning.

“We still have some cap space,” said BriseBois. “Steven Stamkos isn’t signed yet. That’s ongoing. We’re still able, in my mind, to get something done that makes sense for the organization with Steven, even after acquiring Ryan McDonagh.

“Depending on what happens with other players, we’ll address other needs. We still have some cap space to get done what I think we need to get done this offseason.”

As for the talks between Tampa Bay and the Stamkos camp?

“They’re ongoing,” BriseBois shared. “It would be unfair to characterize. I don’t think anything’s changed. Steven was upfront saying he wanted to stay.

That’s his strong preference. I’ve mentioned that’s our strong preference as well. Now, we’re still working on how we make this happen for it to make sense for both sides.”

Naturally, McDonagh was asked about Stamkos remaining in Tampa as well. One of his best friends on the team and a player that McDonagh has consistently lauded for his leadership, Stamkos staying with the Bolts is an idea that everyone can get behind. Now, it’s about fitting all the pieces together.

“He’s the definition of a Bolt,” said McDonagh. “He’s done everything in his career to be as successful as he could and bring as much success to that organization and that franchise. He’s just such a competitor, such a gamer, a great motivator, a great leader by example and a vocal leader too.

“I can’t say enough great things about him and the importance of bringing him back. Hopefully they can find a way to make that happen and we can keep building special memories here in Tampa together.”

It was a great afternoon in Tampa. And, at the end of the day, the Lightning didn’t have to sell the farm to get McDonagh back in Bolts blue.

Does it make them instant favorites to win the Stanley Cup next season? Probably not. But does it increase their odds? Absolutely.

“We’re a better team,” explained BriseBois. “We’ve moved the odds in our favor. How much? That’s hard to quantify. The odds are long for everyone.

There’re 32 teams and 16 make the playoffs. Only two get to the Finals. When you start questioning it, the odds are against everyone and are really small.

“But our job is to increase those odds, push them forward and make it a little more likely that, if the stars align for us, we can go on another magical run. I think we’ve done that today by acquiring Ryan McDonagh.”


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