Why Rangers’ McDonagh is worth steep trade price

James O'Brien
NBC Sports

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During this weekend’s Saturday Headlines segment on Sportsnet, Elliotte Friedman noted that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins might rank as frontrunners for New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh.

That mention constituted just a tiny portion of the segment, as players’ names were batted around, yet McDonagh’s name captivates for a number of factors. If you want to dig deep into possible costs for McDonagh, Blueshirt Banter has a great, detailed rundown. As Joe Fortunato mentions, the Rangers don’t need to trade McDonagh, so that could help them fetch a steeper price.

While it wouldn’t be possible to know what the true asking price would be until we saw a deal come to fruition, I’d wager that McDonagh would probably be worth it, especially compared to the reported demands the Ottawa Senators have for Derick Brassard. If you’re talking about only a slight premium price for McDonagh (a top pairing defenseman, something incredibly tough to trade for) versus Brassard (a respectable center, which is valuable but not as rare), it becomes that much easier to stomach a hypothetical McDonagh deal.

[Rangers acknowledge rebuild, avoid Alain Vigneault questions]

Why, you (maybe) ask? Well, allow me …

McDonagh is affordable

There will come a time when McDonagh gets his money. He’ll be part of a defenseman gold rush lead by Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, also featuring gems like McDonagh, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Ryan Ellis. Some of those guys might sign extensions before their deals expire after the 2018-19 season, yet they all may influence how the crowd gets paid.

That’s certainly a concern for a team wanting to recoup some of the costs of trading for McDonagh by re-signing him, but as it stands, it’s better to be cheap now rather than never.

McDonagh’s an absolute steal at $4.7 million through this season and 2018-19. That makes him more affordable during this looming trade deadline, and easier to work in next summer, particularly if the cap rises as expected.

McDonagh might be a rare player who gets better after a trade

In a lot of cases, a big name struggles after a move. There are plenty of potential explanations for that, from off-ice (dealing with distractions like finding a place to live) to on the ice (chemistry with linemates, a different coach, a less fancy team jet if you’re Mike Modano).

Allow me to wager that McDonagh might actually flourish on a strong team like the Bruins or Lightning, or really any contender that could use someone like him (which, honestly, is just about any contender, especially if they move players along with futures in a trade).

Last season and for some time, McDonagh was chained to Dan Girardi. You can reasonably speculate that such an assignment limited McDonagh in some ways; check this ghastly HERO chart or merely note that the Rangers bought out Girardi, essentially paying him not to play for their team any longer.

This time around, McDonagh’s been lining up most often with Nick Holden only slightly less often than being on the ice at the same time as Henrik Lundqvist, according to Natural Stat TrickVia this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that Holden might be limiting McDonagh, too.

So, a buyer could look at acquiring McDonagh two ways: by imagining how much he might flourish with a more capable partner or by realizing that he might be able to drag someone limited along. It’s more fun to imagine the flourishing idea, but both scenarios bring value.

The window could always close

The Bruins are flying high in part because young players are stepping into notable roles, but let’s not forget how recently this team seemed like it was getting old and declining. Zdeno Chara is 40, Patrice Bergeron is 32, Tuukka Rask is 30, and even Brad Marchand is 29. Each of those four key players have a lot of mileage on them relative to their age; as we’ve seen with the Blackhawks, regression can close in on a roster with cruel speed.

For all we know, this might be the best rendition we’ll see of these B’s for some time. Maybe it’s best to take a swing for the fence?

The Lightning, on the other hand, seem set for years with a fresh core. Steven Stamkos feels like he’s been around forever, yet he’s still only 27.

That said, the salary cap could make it tough for the Bolts to retain this current surplus. Most obviously, superstar Nikita Kucherov won’t be a nigh-offensive $4.76 million bargain much longer; his deal expires after 2018-19. Why not load up now?

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You can apply similar logic to a vast array of contenders, with the main limitation being whether or not said teams can muster the assets the Rangers would demand for McDonagh. We’ve seen big trades fall flat before, but there’s a strong chance that the talented, versatile blueliner could really move the needle.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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