Let’s start this off by making something clear: Ryan McDonagh is a terrific defenseman.
Aside from Henrik Lundqvist, he’s been the most essential lynchpin holding together a shaky Rangers franchise for basically his entire career. He can do it all, and he has. He routinely leads his team in ice time in all situations, turning in excellent results. All this while being anchored down by subpar partners, like Dan Girardi and Nick Holden.
He’s fantastic, he really is. Of all the trade candidates we know are available at this year’s deadline, he is certainly the best.
But this isn’t the draft, where taking the best available player is virtually always the right call. This is the trade deadline, where you have to give something to get something in return. For McDonagh, a 29 year-old with an extra year left on a reasonable contract, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is going to require a massive payment. And he’s right to do it.
But let’s step back from the negotiating table for a moment and ask ourselves a more rudimentary question:
Why does paying the price to acquire McDonagh make sense for the Bruins at all?
Again, he’s a great player. He can make any team better just by showing up. And the Bruins are as well positioned for a long playoff run as they’ve been since 2013. By any measure, if the Bruins are going to “go for it,” now would be the time.
But I believe that the “go for it” mentality should follow this rule:
Trade from a position of surplus or use future assets to fill a need or get definitively better right now.
Measured against this standard, this McDonagh business makes less and less sense for the Bruins.
I think Gorton would be doing his organization a disservice were he to let McDonagh go for anything less a young, NHL ready forward (like Debrusk or Danton Heinen), and a first round pick. Let’s assume that what it takes.
Would the Bruins be dealing from a position of surplus? Well, the Bruins farm is well stocked with highly regarded young forwards. If they move Debrusk or Heinen, yes there are others in the pipeline that may be able to replace them.
But as much as you might think of Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jack Studnicka, or Zach Senyshyn, none of them have any NHL track record. And we’ve seen that Anders Bjork isn’t quite ready, even if he can get healthy.
So that at least partially violates our rule: Calling Debrusk or Heinen a future asset isn’t exactly right. They currently sit at sixth and fourth on your team in scoring respectively, each of them filling major roles. Moving one of them means that your lineup receives a gaping hole that you don’t know if you can fill, especially right now. The most likely fill-in would be Austin Czarnik, and that’s a big gamble for a forward group that’s been very good as currently constituted.
Would the Bruins be filling a position of need? Well, as we learned from last year’s playoffs, you can never have enough defensemen. Let’s be real though, McDonagh wouldn’t be coming here to improve the blue line’s depth. There are other, much more affordable ways to do that.
McDonagh would be here to make the team, as our rule states, definitively better right now.
It’s impossible to argue that he doesn’t make the defense corps better, no matter where he lands in the lineup. He could play his off-hand side with Torey Krug, he could replace Matt Grzelcyk on the third pairing, he could slide up and down the lineup, killing penalties and getting some power play time to boot. He makes the blue line better.
But, taken as a whole, does the trade make the team better? I’m not so sure.
The Bruins are already indisputably the NHL’s best defensive team. At 5-on-5, they lead the league in shots against and goals against per 60 minutes, by a wide margin. They surrender the fourth fewest high danger scoring chances. On the penalty kill, they lead the league in goals against per 60.
(Those stats, courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com, were all prior to last night’s game at Vancouver. Thanks a lot, Brandon Carlo.)
So the question becomes this: How much better can McDonagh make your blue line? Will he widen those gaps significantly? And do you even want to mess with the chemistry and execution that’s made this group so successful?
If he came free, I’d take my chances. Even in a package that didn’t include Debrusk or Heinen, yes, I’d take my chances.
But there are too many question marks about just how much better the Bruins would be in the playoffs to justify the subtraction of either of the two vital wingers. As our guy CrzyCanucklehed says, why make a fresh whole in your lineup to fill a need you don’t really have?
The Bruins should absolutely have that “go for it” mindset at the deadline. Picks and prospects should be in play. Hell, Brandon Carlo should be in play. But the Rangers probably won’t be satisfied with any of that.
If they won’t budge, Don Sweeney should have the patience to walk away.