Among the names potentially available ahead of the NHL trade deadline, New York Rangers captain and top defenseman Ryan McDonagh is certainly the most intriguing from a Bruins perspective for any number of reasons.
McDonagh is probably the most intriguing name to at least a dozen teams, including Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and a Tampa Bay team the Bruins will be battling with neck-and-neck the next few months for the Atlantic Division’s top spot.
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Really, what’s not to like in a guy like McDonagh?
He’s still just 28, he’s on a reasonable contract paying him less than $5 million a season for the next two years and he’s a proven, experienced commodity that could immediately become the veteran leader on any defensemen corps he joined down the stretch.
He’s also averaged nine goals and 38 points the past four seasons for the Blueshirts and averaged less than 23 minutes per game in only one of his seven full NHL seasons.
Certainly, McDonagh wouldn’t have to do that with the Bruins. Zdeno Chara, at 40, is still the captain in Boston, and the 6-foot-9 stopper is expected to remain with the Black and Gold for at least the next season or two. Still, McDonagh would step in and totally fortify a top-four back end that the Bruins could go to Stanley Cup playoffs with and he’d also give the Bruins a long-term answer for what they do when Chara does eventually step away from his Hall of Fame NHL career.
All that being said, the Bruins should steer clear of any last-minute deals for McDonagh unless they can absolutely steal him from the Rangers ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline. If Rangers GM Jeff Gorton wants to accept Jakub Zboril, Anders Bjork and a first-round pick for a proven workhorse No. 1 defenseman, then full speed ahead for Don Sweeney to pull the trigger on that steal of the century.
Still, Gorton is a shrewd evaluator of talent and an experienced executive and the Rangers are in need of young NHL talent that’s already proven they can play in the league.
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He is going to maximize the return for McDonagh and the whispers are that Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa’s version of Charlie McAvoy, would be in play in a deal with the Lightning.
A commodity such as McDonagh doesn’t go on the trade market very often, so the Bruins that will be mentioned would be Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Brandon Carlo with Charlie McAvoy already an untouchable for the Black and Gold. That should present a major problem for the Bruins, who've seen more production (a league-leading 39 goals from their first-year players) from their rookies than any other NHL team this season and have constructed a very effective mix of young players and experienced core veterans into one of the NHL’s best teams.
Sweeney would have to significantly impact the DNA of his current team in order to acquire McDonagh and he'd be taking a major risk with a group that’s shown equal parts talent, character and good chemistry in their first 55 games. With a phalanx of prospects and some redundancy among their left-shot defensemen and speedy, skilled wingers, the Bruins clearly should cash in some of their prospect chips to fill the team’s needs.
That’s the kind of team improvement that comes right along with a possible long playoff run right in front of them and there’s where the B’s find themselves. Dealing away the right prospects to fill NHL needs is part of the draft-and-development plan right, along with raising a crop of talented, productive homegrown players.
Still, the bottom line is this: The Bruins are theoretically going to have to pay too much to acquire McDonagh in the middle of the season and they just shouldn’t do it if that’s the case. Period.
They could potentially end up in a bidding war with the Yzerman for McDonagh’s services if New York really wants to move him. That’s a losing proposition facing down one of the league’s best GMs. It’s also less-than-ideal for the Bruins, who are ahead of schedule in developing a contending team. It's also a little ambitious for a team that’s probably still a year away from a legitimate Stanley Cup run.
It’s something that should be unthinkable if it involves young Bruins players DeBrusk, Heinen and Carlo, who have contributed mightily to the team’s success this season and there’s no reason to think Gorton would demand anything less.
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That’s the kind of thing the Bruins are weighing heavily less than two weeks ahead of the trade deadline, and are very likely to err on the side of caution when push comes to shove. That’s exactly what Sweeney and Cam Neely should be doing at this point.
The Bruins are on the precipice of something special with a Cup-winning core group and a roster overstuffed with talented rookies who are already threatening for a President’s Trophy this season. They need to be very wary of overpaying for veterans and busting up what they’ve spent three years painstakingly crafting.
That’s why the Bruins need to pass on McDonagh right now unless the price is rock-bottom and perhaps revisit things in the summer around the draft when the Rangers are more likely to pull off the blockbuster deal anyway.