1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Lightning

Ryan McDonagh was everything the Lightning could want ... until he wasn’t

The Tampa Bay defenseman anchored the defense in the regular season but looking nothing like himself in the playoffs.
The performance of defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) helped fuel the Tampa Bay Lightning's record-tying regular season. His struggles underscored Tampa Bay's problems in a first-round sweep at the hands of Columbus. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
The performance of defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) helped fuel the Tampa Bay Lightning's record-tying regular season. His struggles underscored Tampa Bay's problems in a first-round sweep at the hands of Columbus. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published May 15, 2019
Updated May 16, 2019

This is the 12th in a series this month looking at each player on the Lightning’s roster. Up next: Ondřej Palát

TAMPA — Over and over, coach Jon Cooper was asked the same question: What makes this year’s Lightning different from last year’s? His answer took on a few forms, but defenseman Ryan McDonagh was a constant element.

“You can’t discount the effect of a healthy Ryan McDonagh,” Cooper said. Sometimes he came down heavy on the months of adjustment made by McDonagh, having moved his family to a new city the year before after he was acquired from the Rangers at the 2018 trade deadline.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: A player-by-player review of Tampa Bay's season

McDonagh served a major role in the Lightning’s regular-season success. He took some of the load off Victor Hedman’s shoulders. McDonagh gave Tampa Bay a defensive defenseman to anchor a top-six pair. He anchored the penalty kill and provided another strong voice in the dressing room.

In short, he was everything the Lightning could have wanted him to be for 82 games. And then he wasn’t.

McDonagh looked like another player entirely in the Blue Jackets’ four-game first-round playoff sweep of the Lightning. He made bad decisions, highlighted by jumping in offensively and making a bad cross-ice pass that turned into Columbus’ first goal of the series. He put himself in bad positions and was spun around like a top, getting beaten on plays.

For some players, the sweep was a matter of old issues cropping up. These were new issues for McDonagh, so much that you have to wonder if something was wrong.

The Lightning gave no indication he was hurt. Neither general manager Julien BriseBois nor Cooper commented on any specific injury, saying everyone is banged up by playoff time.

Was there some other reason he looked nothing like the player he had been? Because something wasn’t right.

Related: MORE ON McDONAGH: One year later, has Ryan McDonagh made you a believer?

That playoff series demonstrated just how important McDonagh is to the Lightning, especially in tandem with Hedman. Together, they are one of the best defense duos (not pairs, because they never played together) in the league.

The Sharks might be the only other team with a similar duo, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

Hedman, who won last year’s Norris Trophy for best defenseman, is once again up for the honor. At midseason, Cooper said if the award went to the best overall defenseman rather than the best offensive defenseman, he’d lobby for McDonagh.

None of that mattered in the playoffs, where Hedman didn’t play like himself in the first two games before sitting out the second two injured. Hedman anchors the power play and McDonagh the penalty kill, two areas where the Lightning couldn’t find its footing.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Is Dan Girardi getting better or older?

Ryan McDonagh’s season in review

High: McDonagh had three three-point games, in wins over the Devils, Senators and Panthers.

Low: The veteran didn’t demonstrate any of the elements that made him so important to the Lightning in the first-round-sweep playoff loss to the Blue Jackets.

By the numbers


McDonagh’s average shorthanded ice time this season, which led the Lightning. Overall, only Victor Hedman had more ice time than McDonagh.


Points, a career high. The defenseman’s nine goals were his most since 2016.


Games played, McDonagh’s first full season since 2011-12 and the second of his nine-year NHL career


  1. Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, center, skates past Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point, left, and shoots the game-winning goal past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, right, during overtime of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Dallas won, 3-2. [RAY CARLIN  |  AP]
    Both Benn goals came off steals, the last in overtime to spoil Tampa Bay’s return from the All-Star break.
  2. Dallas Stars center Jason Dickinson, right, controls the puck on Tampa Bay Lightning center Cedric Paquette, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. [RAY CARLIN  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay had played a lot of games and needed some rest, but the break also broke up a great run.
  3. New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban (76) celebrates after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-1. [ADAM HUNGER  |  AP]
    Diana C Nearhos | Coming out of the all-star break is a good time to re-evaluate those predictions and make some new ones.
  4. Calgary Flames defender Mark Giordano (5), Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) and Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich (33) celebrate after the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic Division 5-4 to win the NHL All-Star final on Saturday in St. Louis. [SCOTT KANE  |  AP]
    “It’s a young man’s game now in the NHL, and these guys, they’re superstars,” Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin says.
  5. Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes his third NHL All-Star Game appearance Saturday in St. Louis. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    NHL all-stars and players around the league praise the Lightning goalie for his size and athleticism, and for making both desperation and “boring” saves.
  6. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, center, smiles as he is congratulated by teammate Steven Stamkos, left, and Erik Karlsson, right, after scoring a "no shot" goal for a hat trick during the NHL All-Star game Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 in Tampa, Fla. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    Embrace players’ creativity with a shootout competition and hockey H-O-R-S-E.
  7. Tampa Bay center Anthony Cirelli doesn't necessarily have All-Star Game flair, but his importance to  the Lightning is never in doubt. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Lightning have too many stars for everyone to be an all-star and they aren’t the only team with that issue.
  8. FILE – In this Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 file photo, the Philadelphia Flyers' mascot, Gritty, performs during an NHL hockey game in Philadelphia. Chris Greenwell has alleged that the mascot punched his 13-year-old son, Brandon, after a photo shoot in November. The Incident is under investigation. [DERIK HAMILTON                        |  AP]
    The Flyers mascot is accused of punching a 13-year-old “as hard as he could.”
  9. United States' Kendall Coyne skates during the Skills Competition, part of the NHL All-Star weekend, in San Jose, Calif., Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. [BEN MARGOT  |  AP]
    Diana C. Nearhos | Women’s hockey is at a crossroads as players try to figure out what kind of professional league they want.
  10. Vegas Golden Knights NHL hockey team general manager Kelly McCrimmon holds a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday, Jan 15, 2020. Head coach Gerard Gallant was fired less than two years after leading the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final. Peter DeBoer will be the coach for the rest of the season. [SEAN KILPATRICK  |  AP]
    Diana C. Nearhos | The NHL looks like musical chairs for coaches. Get to know Cedric Paquette.