When the Rangers traded J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh to a Stanley Cup contender in the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, it was more of a relief for both men who could not fulfill their potential with the Rangers.
It was a chance for a new start. It was an opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup contender without being the guy. It was time to make a new impression with new teammates that are also seeking a chance to hold the Stanley Cup as the last team standing.
The former Rangers are getting their shot now. So far so good. Not much pressure to be the guy. All they have to do is play like role players such as checking and setting guys up and let guys like Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Ondraj Palat, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point be the guys that score goals.
It could be that’s what Miller and McDonagh are all along. Only with the Rangers, they have been pressured to play like stars when in reality, they never were stars. They were nice role players who performed above expectations in the regular season, but come playoff time, they just did not have it.
It does not make them a failure. It does not make them busts as Rangers. That’s on the Rangers for making them something they never were. It’s been a long time since the Rangers developed stars, and they are still searching for one.
For the Lightning, they are a fit since their skill sets fit what the Lightning want out of them. They want the both of them to do the little things. Those type of players fit well to a highly skilled team, not to mention they provide the type of grit that is needed to win a Stanley Cup.
Miller’s strength is being a passer. As a Ranger, he had 27 assists with them this season and 34 assists last season, and that’s what made him appealing to the Lightning. In the best-of-seven series against the Devils so far, he has a goal and three assists.
When the Lightning go on a power-play, Miller becomes a valuable part since he can create offense whether through abusing the slot line or making quick passes that disrupts a goalie’s ability to see. With the weapons the Lightning possessed on offense, it’s easy to see why they wanted him because of his ability to make it happen on power play. Think of him as a NBA point guard.
The Rangers wanted Miller to be a scorer. They put him on the first line. They actually made him a centerpiece of their offense along with Chris Kreider. They thought he could be better than being the guy. Instead of appreciating what they got in him, they wanted more out of him. There’s no question this team wanted to developed a go-to guy, and they hoped he can build on that. It was not meant to be.
McDonagh has been everything the Lightning expected when they acquired him. He blocks shots, competes for puck in the corners, moves the puck up ice well, joins the rush, shoots from the blueline, kills penalties and wins faceoffs. In other words, he is the entire package that a team would want. Those are the little things again that would complement the Lightning’s scorers.
The former Ranger leads the Lightning defenseman with three points on assists. He has set up the offense on 5-on-5 play and he played a role in the Lightning killing 15 of 18 penalties.
Again, the Rangers tried to make him something McDonagh was not. They wanted to mold him into Brian Leetch. They wanted him to be a scorer. They expected way too much of him to be something he is not.
There was no question those two were unappreciated by the Rangers and their fans. Part of it could be frustration that they couldn’t win the Stanley Cup during their time there. Part of it was could be the Rangers could never win big games with them. It wasn’t meant to be.
There’s no question those two wanted it to work out for the Rangers since they were homegrown players. They wanted to win the Stanley Cup as Rangers. They had their chances in 2014 and 2015 just to fall short. Those were the years that they thought they could have won it all. Yeah there would be regrets for the both of them, but there’s nothing they can do about it now. It’s more on the Rangers failing them than vice versa.
The Rangers did not know how good they have it, and they still don’t know. They probably will if their rebuilding does not work out.
For Miller and McDonagh, they have moved on. They got better things to worry about such as being 13 wins from holding the Holy Grail. They know opportunities like that are not going to come often.
This year is their best chance.