Ryan McDonagh has been traded. The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired the New York Rangers captain, pending a trade call according to Bob McKenzie of TSN. Darren Dreger adds that J.T. Miller is also expected to be in the trade. McKenzie tweets that the return will be Vladislav Namestnikov, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, a 2018 first-round pick and a conditional second-round pick that will become a first-round pick if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup this year or next.
In the biggest deal of the year, the Lightning have added that much-needed defensive help by bringing in McDonagh. The 28-year old former captain is a legitimate first-pairing player, but will be able to slot in behind Victor Hedman to give Tampa Bay two impressive pairings. They also completed the deal without giving up Mikhail Sergachev, who projects to be a long-term option for the club’s top-4 and can continue to be sheltered in his rookie while quarterbacking one powerplay unit.
Miller, 24, is another huge addition for the Lightning, who had been looking for help on the wing all season. Though he had been transitioned back to center this season for the Rangers, it seems more likely that he’ll move back to the left side as Tampa Bay still has a glut of options down the middle. The 15th-overall pick in 2011, Miller has shown a consistent scoring ability and is coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons. This year he has just 13 goals, but has already totaled his third straight 40-point season and could challenge his career-high with a good final stretch.
The addition of both players pushes the Lightning back to a favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference and win the Stanley Cup, but did come at a hefty price. Though Sergachev and Brayden Point were both not included, the package given up includes several pieces with very high potential.
In Namestnikov, the Rangers are acquiring a 25-year old forward in the midst of a career-best season. The 27th-overall selection from 2011, he has scored 20 goals for the first time in his career to go along with 44 points through 62 games. He’ll immediately become one of the Rangers’ best options at center, but does come with some work still left to do. A pending restricted free agent, Namestnikov is in for a hefty raise—something Miller will also be in line for this summer—given that he has just two years before being scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Any long-term deal will have to come with a substantial raise from his current $1.94MM cap hit.
The prospects, Howden and Hajek, are both among the best in the game. Howden was selected 27th-overall in 2016, and still plays in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Despite the fact that he’s not yet in professional hockey, he does have some experience at the AHL level after playing eight games for the Syracuse Crunch at the end of last season. Since then, he’s put up 58 points in 38 games for the Warriors, and played a key role in Canada’s gold medal at the World Juniors.
He plays a dynamic two-way role, and projects to be an excellent center in the NHL capable of both contributing offensively and playing against some of the opponent’s best. He brings size and speed, and makes the Rangers future down the middle even brighter. When grouped with Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, suddenly a position that was an organizational weakness a year ago now ranks among the league’s best.
Hajek brings his own high potential, and could turn into the best player in the deal for the Rangers down the road. A prototypical shut down defenseman, Hajek is an excellent skater that has continued to improve since being taken 37th-overall in 2016. He also has experience with the Crunch, playing eight games for them last season, but is currently with the Regina Pats of the WHL. The 20-year old can play various different styles and arguably becomes the Rangers top defensive prospect, even ahead of the recently acquired Ryan Lindgren and current NHLers Neal Pionk and Anthony DeAngelo.
The fact that the deal also brings with it the potential of two first-round picks makes it worthwhile for the Rangers, even if it hurts to lose two of their best players. After this trade and the others completed over the last few weeks, New York now has seven selections in the top three rounds this year including three in the first round, and could really jump-start the rebuild they promised their fans.
While the Rangers have completed what they promised to do this season, the Lighting are now ready to compete for the Stanley Cup not only this season but next. McDonagh carries just a $4.7MM cap hit through the end of the 2018-19 season, when he is scheduled to be one of the top unrestricted free agents. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will have the cap space to retain his services at that point, but if we’ve learned anything from GM Steve Yzerman over the last few seasons, it is to expect the unexpected.
Photo of McDonagh courtesy of USA Today Sports Images