With the NHL trade deadline three weeks away, there's no question the Lightning's biggest priority is addressing its blueline.
There's Tampa Bay fans' fantasy of acquiring the big fish, two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Fellow Senators right-shot defenseman Cody Ceci (a pending free agent) may be the more likely option.
Red Wings' Mike Green is likely getting moved, with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos a big fan. You can bet general manager Steve Yzerman also has under-the-radar targets, too, with Vancouver's Troy Stecher one he got to see up close on this road trip.
But there's another intriguing option out there, if the Lightning wants to continue collecting Rangers.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh appears to be available, with the New York Post reporting there's "mutual interest" from both teams in exploring a potential deal.
For what it's worth, the Rangers did have a scout Monday at the Lightning's game in Edmonton, with a Tampa Bay rep in Dallas to watch the Rangers.
McDonagh, 28, has a manageable $4.7 million annual cap hit through next season, and the Post reported the Rangers could be willing to assume half of it to maximize return. The Lightning has a strong prospect pool (and all of its picks the next three seasons), which could be enticing to the rebuilding Rangers. Tampa Bay is a Cup contender, which should be attractive to McDonagh, who has a modified no-trade clause with a list of 10 teams where he'd accept a trade.
Interest in New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh seems to be increasing as we close in on the NHL trading deadline. https://t.co/R23uT5srjH— Pro Hockey Rumors (@prohockeyrumors) February 4, 2018
The Lightning would probably prefer a right-shot defenseman (McDonagh shoots left), but his former teammates in New York rave bout his impact on and off the ice.
"He's definitely one of the more solid d-men out there," said Lightning veteran defenseman Anton Stralman, who played with McDonagh from 2011-14. "He's a mobile, smart player, great skater. Good awareness of when to join, when not to. Just overall a good player."
The Lightning has a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman in its top pair in Victor Hedman. It's other left-shot defensemen are rookie Mikhail Sergachev, a talented 19-year-old Russian who is still trying to find his way, veteran Braydon Coburn and Slater Koekkoek. Coburn, who can also play the right side, has had his ups and downs this season, especially after a November lower body injury.
McDonagh is a proven playoff performer, a shutdown caliber defenseman whose skating ability fits with the Lightning's style of play.
"What McDonagh brings is his ability to skate," said Lightning wing Ryan Callahan, McDonagh's predecessor as Rangers captain. "He's such a good skater, so strong on his feet. It's a little bit like (Hedman), where he's not really out of any play because his legs are so good. He's been a cornerstone with the Rangers for so long and been on long playoff runs with him being the No. 1 guy. His body of work speaks for itself."
McDonagh has 26 points (two goals) in 47 games this season, a plus-10 while facing other team's top lines. He averages more than 23 minutes a game, and can play in all situations.
Mikhail Sergachev took a step forward against Vancouver, showing the kind of assertiveness and confidence that has been fleeting as of late. #TBLightning @TBLightning @TB_Times @TBTimes_JSmith https://t.co/klablzUxLx— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 4, 2018
Few players know McDonagh better than his former long-time defensive pair partner Dan Girardi, who is in his first season with the Lightning. Girardi, along with the rest of the former Rangers in Tampa Bay, said they haven't spoken with McDonagh about the situation.
But Girardi said McDonagh would be a "good addition" anywhere he goes.
"He's a dynamic player, very good offensively and defensively," Girardi said of McDonagh. "He's a very good shutdown d-man. I'm not sure what's going to happen. We don't know what we're going to do (at the deadline). This is the time of year where there's a lot of chatter and players have got to make sure we focus on what's happening in the room. That's the hardest part about this time of year, when guys aren't sure. Whatever happens, we'll see.
"A player like that, any team he'll make better. Not saying he'd be a great fit here or there, but if he does get moved, which we don't know, he'll be a good addition."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith