Karl Henriksson departure caps one of worst trades in Rangers history

Karl Henriksson
Credit: Hartford Wolf Pack

New York Rangers prospect Karl Henriksson is departing the organization to sign a three-year contract in the Swedish Hockey League. It’s not a big loss to the farm system since Henriksson had struggled to put the pieces together offensively, with 18 goals and 40 points in 134 games in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack across the past two seasons.

However, it does mark a fitting, anticlimactic end to the infamous trade of Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, with Henriksson being the last remaining piece in the Rangers organization from that 2018 deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

On February 8, 2018, Rangers president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton released a letter to their fans, warning that the team would seek to acquire young talent and potentially part ways with familiar faces as the upcoming trade deadline, setting the course for a rebuild after a string of successful seasons and deep playoff runs.

They ended up trading several key players, including McDonagh who had served as captain for the previous four seasons, and Miller, who was an exciting forward and former 15th-overall pick.

This particular deal saw McDonagh and Miller shipped to the Lightning, who were pushing to make a Stanley Cup run. In exchange, the Rangers received Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and two early draft picks — the Lightning’s first-rounder in 2018 and a second-rounder in 2019. New York took Nils Lundkvist with the first-round pick and selected Henriksson 58th overall with the second-rounder.

Six years later, not a single piece from the trade package remains in the Rangers organization. It remains a black mark on the Rangers’ rebuild, arguably the worst move in general manager Jeff Gorton’s tenure, and one of the worst trades in Rangers history.

Related: Early look at 2024-25 Hartford Wolf Pack roster, including Brennan Othmann

Trading Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller to Lightning in 2018 one of worst in Rangers history

NHL: Stanley Cup Champion-Tampa Bay Lightning Parade
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Unable to pry away prized young talent like Brayden Point or Mikhail Sergachev from Tampa Bay, Gorton built the deal around Hajek, a former second-round pick with exciting upside as a 20-year-old defenseman. But Hajek never sniffed his lofty expectations.

Given numerous chances to seize playing time and a permanent spot in the Rangers defense corps, Hajek never played more than 44 games in a single season across five years. The Rangers let him go after the 2022-23 season, and he has not played a game in the NHL since. He played 110 games as a Blueshirt, managing just 12 points and a minus-9 rating.

Namestnikov had four and a half years of experience at the time of the trade, all with Tampa Bay. The 27th overall pick in 2011 had already set NHL career highs in the 61 games prior to the trade, scoring 20 goals and 44 points. He scored two goals and four points in his subsequent 19 games with the Rangers, and to this day, has not scored 20 goals or 40 points since.

Early in the 2019-20 season, the Rangers dealt him to the Ottawa Senators for an unremarkable return. Namestnikov played 99 games with the Blueshirts and scored just 13 goals and 35 points. He’s stayed in the League but bounced around frequently, closing out this past season with the Winnipeg Jets, his sixth different team since leaving the Blueshirts.

Howden won a Stanley Cup ring and enjoyed a two-goal performance in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. It just so happens he did it for the Vegas Golden Knights last season.

Of the five players in this package, Howden had the best career with the Rangers by default, playing 178 games with New York, scoring 16 goals and 49 points. Advertised as an exciting two-way forward, the 27th overall pick in 2016 ended up being a solid fourth-line center in New York but was dealt to Vegas in the summer of 2021, finding success in a bottom-six role there.

For a little while, there was some hope that Lundkvist would be the pize of this trade, after the defenseman drew attention with some nice offensive play in the SHL. Given 25 games of run as a 21-year-old with the Rangers in 2021-22, Lundkvist managed a goal and four points, failing to do enough to stay in the lineup. The Rangers traded him to the Dallas Stars that offseason, getting a first-round pick in return which was flipped ahead of the 2023 trade deadline to the St. Louis Blues for Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola.

Henriksson failed to garner the same hype and, after struggling in the AHL for two seasons, has elected to return to the SHL.

The return for McDonagh and Miller resulted in a combined 412 games at the NHL level with the Rangers and just 100 points produced. No one from the trade has played for the Rangers since 2022-23, with Hajek being the last one.

Meanwhile, McDonagh played a major role in the Lightning’s three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final, getting his name engraved on the Cup in 2020 and 2021. After two seasons with the Nashville Predators, he’s returning to the Lightning next season after a recent offseason trade.

Miller wasn’t able to stick in Tampa long enough to hoist the Cup. He was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in the summer of 2019. Nonetheless, he’s become one of the League’s top offensive centers, scoring an NHL career-high 37 goals and 103 points this past season.

It’s pretty clear cut — New York got the short end of the stick on this trade.

There are still loose ties in the organization from the trade tree. The fourth-round pick Ottawa gave up for Namestnikov was used to take forward Kalle Vaisanen, who signed late this season and played three games for Hartford.

The fourth-rounder from Vegas in the Howden deal was used on Noah Laba, who has yet to sign an entry-level contract. Laba just wrapped up his second season at Colorado College and was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Defensive Forward of the Year as well as All-NCHC First Team.

The Rangers’ fire sale in 2018 resulted in a lot of big-name players being shipped out. Along with McDonagh and Miller, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello were all traded as Gorton tried to accumulate draft picks and young talent.

While the Nash trade netted them Ryan Lindgren and helped the Rangers move up to select K’Andre Miller 22nd overall in the draft, it’s hard to feel like the Rangers got the return value they should have from the talent they parted with.

Fans need to look no further than the colossal failure of the trade with the Lightning, as Henriksson’s departure marks the final blow, cementing it as one of the worst trades in Rangers history.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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