Rangers make massive trade at buzzer sending McDonagh and Miller to Lightning


Ryan McDonagh

Thanks Mac: Ryan McDonagh is mobbed by teammates Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast after his overtime winner kept alive the Rangers season. It was his most memorable moment along with torching the Canadiens to lead the 2014 Rangers to a Stanley Cup Final. Good luck to him in Tampa. 

They waited until the last possible second to do it. It happened. The Rangers made a massive trade with the Lightning at the buzzer sending captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa where they’ll join buddies Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and take their best shot at winning a Stanley Cup. Just call them the Tampa Rangers.

For two good players with McDonagh a great Ranger who led the team to a Stanley Cup appearance and played on a broken foot to come within a period of a return trip against those Lightning, they got a iffy return. Coming back are center Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Libor Hajek, Brett Holden, a 2018 first round pick and conditional second round pick.

Considering how long they held out, I came away disappointed with the return. Especially with it not only being McDonagh who went. They also included the versatile Miller who for as frustrating as he was at times this season ranks second in team scoring with 40 points (13-27-40). The soon to be 25-year old will have to perform better than his one goal in 40 career playoff games with his new team. He is restricted this summer which means Tampa must give him a raise.

After acquiring similar in skill forward Ryan Spooner from Boston in the Rick Nash trade, that might’ve been a factor in finally dealing away Miller. With Kevin Hayes maturing into a shutdown center in  his fourth year, the organization had to choose between him and Miller. Especially if they plan to hold onto Spooner, who recorded two assists in his team debut last night. He’s 26 and makes $2.83 million this year before turning restricted like Miller. Is the plan to keep Spoon Man or reroute him for another draft pick this summer?

It’s a good question. Mika Zibanejad remains the top center locked in for another four years at a AAV of $5 million. Hayes will be re-signed at probably a salary within the same range. Namestnikov is 25 and makes $1.94 million and will be a Group II free agent this summer. So, he should be cheaper than Miller, who was making $2.75 million.

Like Miller, Namestnikov is a former first round pick who is a similar skill set. He had been playing with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov most of the season. Not surprisingly, he saw a hike in production. The 20 goals, 24 assists and 44 points are all career highs already. He’ll look to improve as a Blueshirt in a similar role to what Miller played.

Of course when you trade two proven NHL players, you have to get at least one roster player back. So, GM Jeff Gorton did that. But when it was reported that this was a “massive deal” by TSN, you had to figure just maybe they also got top target Mikhail Sergachev or one of Tampa’s elite prospects Taylor Raddysh or Cal Foote.

That’s the disappointing aspect. Players like McDonagh don’t grow on trees. For eight years after being stolen from Montreal by Glen Sather in the Scott Gomez trade, he became the Rangers’ best defenseman and next captain after Callahan was dealt to Tampa for Martin St. Louis. This is a proven performer who can log big minutes, play in any situation and relieve pressure from Bolts anchor Victor Hedman. A guy who destroyed the Canadiens in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final and was part of a shutdown pair with Girardi, who happens to be doing fine under coach Jon Cooper.

In one giant move, the Lightning upgraded their blueline by adding McDonagh to Hedman, Stralman, Girardi while keeping Sergachev. That is insane. Braydon Coburn is their sixth D. They also added much needed grit up front without subtracting anyone major. The Lightning have Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde at the center position behind Stamkos.

It’s a huge win for Tampa. They win a Cup and it’s worth it. Don’t forget McDonagh is not a one year rental. He’s signed through 2019. So, they get two big shots at this while Miller should be a integral part. Considering that the Pens just added Derick Brassard, they had to do it.

So, how will this deal be judged from a Rangers perspective? Only time shall tell. It all depends on if they got the right prospects and what they can do with their third first round pick of this year’s draft. Logic dictates that Gorton will be working the phones in a attempt to move up from wherever they are which will likely be eight into the top five. He’s certainly acquired enough assets to trade up and land either Quinn Hughes or Brady Tkachuk. It says here he doesn’t have enough to steal the first overall pick and get Rasmus Dahlin unless the impossible happens.

As for the two prospects, here goes. Howden was taken by the Lightning in the first round 27th overall in 2016. A 19-year old center from Manitoba listed at 6-3, 191, he isn’t close to being ready. He’s produced well with Moose Jaw of the WHL tallying 22 goals, 36 assists and 58 points in 38 games after going 38-43-81 over 58 contests in ‘16-17. He went 3-1-4 in a five game stint with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL last year. At the 2018 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship, he picked up three goals and four assists to help Canada win a gold medal. Here’s a video montage of some of his exploits from the tournament. He has some size to him and is a good skater who drives the net.

Somewhat curiously, Hajek was the guy the Rangers wanted. A 20-year old from the Czech Republic who Tampa selected in the second round 37th overall in the same 2016 NHL Draft, he’s a left D who goes 6-2, 210. On paper, that sounds good. He has played in the Western Hockey League since age 17. He played for the Saskatoon Blades three years running putting up respectable numbers with his eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 33 games this season solid. He has since been traded to the Regina Rats going 3-7-10 in 19 contests.

At the U20 WJC in Buffalo, Hajek fared well producing a goal and seven helpers for the Czech Republic. He was named one of their top three stars of the tournament despite going minus-five in a lopsided bronze medal loss to Team USA. I’ll see what else I can find on him.

As far as McDonagh goes, he gave his heart and soul to some very good Rangers teams. Don’t forget he played with a broken foot in the crushing seven-game loss to Tampa. I’m definitely emotional about him going. Sometimes, you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. I think many of the critics will soon recognize that. It’ll be very hard to replace a high character player of his caliber. Thank you for being the best number 27 the franchise ever had. Even more so than my all-time fave Alexei Kovalev. I’ll be pulling for Mac in the playoffs along with Danny G, Cally and Stralsy.

It’s hard to believe that only four players remain from the 2014 team that reached the Stanley Cup Final. It’s sad. The four holdovers for now are Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, who survived the deadline. I personally think he’ll stay put and be that veteran presence up front for young 2017 first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil to learn from this Fall. It doesn’t mean he can’t be traded. I could be wrong. Zuccarello is up in 2019. We’ll see.

For what it’s worth, I would also keep Staal around. He’s been better and healthier this season along with steadier. While he gets unfair criticism from the usual suspects, the team defense has performed better with him. They don’t have to use him any differently than this season. He can play even strength and penalty kill on either the second or third pair whole providing leadership and intangibles for younger blueliners including Brady Skjei. It’s not a bad idea to have Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk around as the two experienced defensemen for the kids to learn from.

Hypothetically, they would have three spots open with Tony DeAngelo, John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara and Neal Pionk competing for with the seventh slot available. Figure prospects Brandon Crawley, Sean Day and Ryan Lindgren to get looks with possibly Hajek. I think they’ve pretty much given up on Ryan Graves. That’s apparently is the case with him traded to Colorado. Better luck there.

A final thought on Miller. A player I followed closely since he helped lead Team USA to gold in the WJC. I’ll let this tweet stand here:

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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