Advertisement
  1. Sports

Loss of Ryan McDonagh still stings as Lightning open camp

Players say they can’t replace the all-around contributions of the defenseman, who was traded to Nashville in the offseason.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said Wednesday that a player like defenseman Ryan McDonagh can't be replaced. Multiple players will need to step up now, on the ice and in the locker room, to help mitigate his loss.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said Wednesday that a player like defenseman Ryan McDonagh can't be replaced. Multiple players will need to step up now, on the ice and in the locker room, to help mitigate his loss. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 21|Updated Sep. 21

TAMPA — Roster turnover is inevitable every hockey offseason, especially for a team annually pressed up against the salary-cap limit like the Lightning.

But when a team loses a rock like Ryan McDonagh, who was one of the Lightning’s top defensemen and leaders, it doesn’t sit well even months later.

General manager Julien BriseBois would have preferred having McDonagh play for the Lightning through the length of his contract, which ends after the 2025-26 season. But with the salary cap remaining the same the past three seasons and going up only $1 million this year to $82.5 million, BriseBois had to take significant money off the books in the offseason to be able to keep the veteran core intact and extend key young players. And McDonagh’s $6.75 million cap hit became the salary to move.

McDonagh was traded to the Predators on July 3 for forward Grant Mismash and defenseman Philippe Myers.

The Lightning are a tight-knit group, and as the players reported to training camp Wednesday for testing and media day activities, McDonagh’s absence still stung.

“You don’t replace a guy like that, that’s the bottom line,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “But it’s got to be collective. (He was) one of the biggest warriors on ice that I’ve seen, blocking shots for fun and making big-time plays, a good leader in the (locker) room.

“You don’t replace a guy like that, and we’re not looking for that from the new guys, either. We’re looking for them to bring their own game into the fold, and we’ve just got to elevate our game.”

Ryan McDonagh wasn't the only offseason casualty thanks to the cap. Ondrej Palat has moved on as well.
Ryan McDonagh wasn't the only offseason casualty thanks to the cap. Ondrej Palat has moved on as well. [ SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times ]

McDonagh was the Lightning’s top shot blocker and the backbone of the top penalty-kill unit. He did a lot of dirty work but also found himself in the middle of many game-changing plays. Last season he averaged the third-most ice time on the team, averaging 22 minutes, 27 seconds a game, and in the postseason he played with a mangled finger.

He also had an incredible impact off the ice.

“We can go on for days,” forward Pat Maroon said of McDonagh’s footprint. “He had a good sense of the room and the feeling in the room and what we needed and what we didn’t need. And he was a guy that everyone went to … and that’s a guy you need.

“It’s unfortunate how he left. But again, it’s a business, and we’re going to need guys to step up now.”

Get real-time alerts about your favorite teams

Get real-time alerts about your favorite teams

Subscribe to our free Breaking Sports News newsletter

We’ll send you major developments in the local, state and national sports world as they happen.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

McDonagh led by example but he knew when something needed to be said, Maroon said, whether it be to the group or if the players needed a representative to go to the coaching staff.

“He was so good at that, and it’s a good thing how he carried himself because he’s a good guy to (be a) mentor and a good guy to look up to,” Maroon said. “So I think there’s guys in that room that understood what he did every day. And I think guys can do a good job of kind of taking that role over.”

BriseBois has said more will be asked from Mikhail Sergachev. The 24-year-old will assume McDonagh’s second left defenseman spot behind Hedman and likely get more minutes on the penalty kill.

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev will be taking on more responsibilities now that McDonagh has departed.
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev will be taking on more responsibilities now that McDonagh has departed. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“Really, really sad to see ‘Mac’ go, that’s for sure,” Sergachev said. “But I’ve done a lot of listening, so I’m really thankful that I had time to play with him.”

You can’t test leadership. It emerges on its own. BriseBois was asked whether he believes the Lightning can fill McDonagh’s leadership role.

“I think we will have to. By necessity, it’s going to take place,” BriseBois said. “Some of our older guys that have been part of the leadership group for a number of years are still here, and then we have an emerging group of leaders that have been with us, have won championships with us, have gotten to the Stanley Cup finals, who are now ready to assume a bigger leadership role, I think, in the room.”

When the Lightning take the ice today for their first official practice of training camp, they also will be without forward Ondrej Palat, a homegrown talent and top postseason performer. Financially, the Lightning also couldn’t keep Palat, who signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Devils in free agency after spending the first 10 years of his NHL career in Tampa Bay.

“It’s tough,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “(McDonagh and Palat have) been around for a very long time and instrumental in the success that we’ve had in this team.

“It’s frustrating to see those two guys go, for sure. But in saying that, we can’t dwell on it now. We have no choice. We don’t make those decisions. We come to the rink and have to do our job. So our job starts now.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

• • •

Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge