My reasoning for the aforementioned conclusion is essentially twofold:
1) The Lightning's *real* need is (and was at the time of the McDonagh acquisition, for that matter) on the right side of the blue line; and
2) The trendline in McDonagh's past performance suggests that his reputation might provide the Lightning with more value than any expected future results
With regards to 1) above, it's worth noting that Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman indicated that Tampa GM Steve Yzerman is looking for help on the right side of the blue line once again this summer. It's been an evergreen thought for the last few seasons, one that has yet to be adequately addressed. With Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev slated to man the left side for the foreseeable future, McDonagh's natural fit on the Lightning's back end has always been a bit questionable.
Those questions were easy to brush aside at the time of the trade, based on McDonagh's track record in New York. Acquiring a top-pairing defenceman, regardless of which side he normally plays on, is almost always going to make a rearguard core better. The trouble now is that more recent results suggest that McDonagh may not be the top-two guy the Lightning hoped and thought they were getting, which makes rationalizing the unnatural fit a lot more difficult.
And that's where point 2) comes into focus.
A quick look at McDonagh's results, courtesy of Corsica.Hockey, over the last handful of years shows a clearly-defined trend:
Much has been made of the impact that Dan Girardi had on McDonagh during their years together in New York, but it's not as though his time away from Girardi to start 2017-18 was particularly fruitful. If every partner weighs down a player's results so significantly, maybe the partner of the day isn't the only one who should receive a share of the blame?
Defenders who perform well when paired with a sound partner are important, but the problem for Tampa Bay is that they don't have enough of the the 'sound partner' variety to begin with. If McDonagh is going to be a someone who relies on someone rather than someone who can be relied on, that's a problem for this group. There simply isn't enough Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman to go around.
The saving grace here, as mentioned earlier, is Ryan McDonagh's reputation. Rightly or wrongly, he is still seemingly regarded as one of the league's top-flight defencemen. The opportunity to explore the trade market for him is thus incredibly attractive. Imagine moving McDonagh for, say, an Anton Stralman-like figure. Someone who isn't a flashy presence with a huge contract, but who gets the job done effectively and efficiently every night. Someone who fits the right-handed hole that Yzerman has been trying to fill. Someone that the Lightning might be able to build into their future plans, because he won't command $7M+ on his next contract like McDonagh likely will.
Hedman, Stralman, and Sergachev is already the makings of a very sound top-four grouping. As referenced in the previously-linked @loserpoints piece, Sergaehev and Stralman worked tremendously well together last season, while Victor Hedman has shown a natural ability to carry even the deadest of weight. Adding another solid, right-side presence to that grouping would even out the pairings in a more natural way.
None of this is to suggest that moving McDonagh is a must if the Lightning want to compete next season; he's still a fine defender who can contribute on a nightly basis. The purpose of this blog, though, is to highlight that the Lightning might be taking a gamble if they are hoping that he will miraculously become the 2012-13 version of himself. While his play may not be reflective of those days anymore, his league-wide reputation surely is. And that's what makes the prospect of exploring the trade market at least a little bit intriguing.
As always, thanks for reading.