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McDonagh happy Lightning kept core group intact

Defenseman says team will be motivated after falling short of Stanley Cup Final last season

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Ryan McDonagh will be happy to see a lot of familiar faces when he reports to training camp for the Tampa Bay Lightning in September.

"You see a lot of times when teams go on deeper runs, sometimes roles on the team get switched around," the defenseman said. "But for us, it's nice to have the same team, or as close to it, coming back. Our whole [defense] is coming back, and a lot of the similar forwards, goaltending and stuff.

"You like the fact that those guys have experienced together coming just short of where we want to be. Hopefully it's good motivation for the summer, and when we get back down there as a group we're focused on playing as well as we can."


[RELATED: Lightning add Andreoff in trade, retain core groupMcDonagh signs seven-year extension with Lightning]


The Lightning had a successful season but fell short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. They won the Atlantic Division (54-23-5), led the Eastern Conference with 113 points and advanced to the conference final before losing in seven games to the Washington Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup.

It's all so different for McDonagh, 29, than it was before being traded Feb. 26, along with forward J.T. Miller, to the Lightning by the New York Rangers for forward Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden, a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and a conditional first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

McDonagh went from a team that had just started a rebuild to a team that could contend for a title for the next several seasons because of a deep defense, solid goaltending and several high-scoring forwards, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Plus, McDonagh signed a seven-year extension July 1 worth $6.75 million per season beginning in 2019-20. 

Video: McDonagh on his contract extension with the Lightning

"They thought I would be a big part of the future and repeated that same message when our season ended," McDonagh said during his debut at Da Beauty League, a 4-on-4 summer league for players with connections to Minnesota. "It was great that I got four months down there, and it was a good test.

"Hopefully we're going to be competitive for a long time."

McDonagh had three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 games with Tampa Bay. With New York, he had 26 points (two goals, 24 assists) in 49 games. In 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games, he averaged 22:31 of ice time and had five assists. 

McDonagh is the latest core piece Tampa Bay has secured. Stamkos has a contract through 2023-24, Kucherov through 2026-27, defensemen Victor Hedman through 2024-25, and forwards Ondrej Palat, Miller and Tyler Johnson through at least 2022. 

Video: TOR@TBL: McDonagh nets top-shelf goal from high slot

Though the core will remain the same, opponents throughout the Atlantic Division have strengthened themselves. In the biggest move, center John Tavares joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing a seven-year contract July 1. The Maple Leafs finished third with 105 points, seven points behind the Boston Bruins. 

McDonagh said he faced teams with star power during his eight seasons with the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, but the Atlantic presents its own obstacles.

"Now that I'm over in the Atlantic it's new challenges, new teams, new rivalries and no question that Toronto is a good test for us all year," he said. "For us, it's a lot of the same guys coming back. Not a lot of new pieces, so we need to keep improving in the offseason here, and when it's time to come together and play, we'll play as well as we can.

"I'm excited to get the season started. Right around the start of August you get the itch to get back on the ice and get back on schedule. … It just builds [the] excitement of starting a new season again, especially with the prospective year we have ahead. I'm looking forward to it."

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