Ryan McDonagh trade tree a big blunder for Rangers

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Oct 13, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) awaits the face-off against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Rangers dealt their captain Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it signaled that the rebuild letter wasn’t just meaningless words but a call to action.

The question we look to answer is if that call was the right one.

Ryan McDonagh trade tree

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On February 26th, 2018 the Rangers traded McDonagh and JT Miller for Vladislav Nemestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, 2018 1st round pick (Nils Lundkvist), and a conditional second round pick (Karl Henriksson).

Looking back at the trade five years later and with the dust settling on the draft picks, it’s easy to call this one a complete bust.

As McDonagh was winning Stanley Cups in Tampa and Miller developed into a superstar with the Vancouver Canucks, the Rangers were slowly selling off the assets they acquired in that deal.

It began in 2019 when Namestnikov was traded to Ottawa for a fourth-round pick (Kalle Väisänen) and Nick Ebert, who the Rangers let walk.

Meanwhile, Brett Howden was turning into a nice fourth line center, but the Rangers opted to trade him to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2021 for Nick DeSimone and a fourth-round pick that became Noah Laba. New York watched Howden skate with the Cup this summer, as they hope Laba develops into a roster player one day. DeSimone signed with the Calgary Flames as a free agent and never played for the Rangers.

Multiple reports noted former GM Jeff Gorton insisted prospect defenseman Libor Hajek be included in the trade. Despite getting numerous opportunities, Hajek never showed the ability to be an everyday NHL defender. The Rangers did not tender a qualifying offer and let the 25 year-old become a UFA this summer.

Finally, the most valuable asset acquired was first-round selection Nils Lundkvist, who is no longer with the Blueshirts. With the emergence of Braden Schneider and the logjam on right defense, he was sent packing to the Dallas Stars after requesting a trade in September of 2022. In return, the Blueshirts received a conditional first-round pick in 2023 and a fourth-round pick in 2025.

That first round-pick along with Sammy Blais and Hunter Skinner was used prior to the trade deadline to acquire Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues in February.

Unfortunately, the gamble resulted in a first round exit to the New Jersey Devils in May.

Very little to show for trading their captain

So what do the Rangers have to show for trading McDonagh and Miller?

After the storm that blew through this trade tree, the Rangers are left with prospects Karl Henriksson, Kalle Väisänen, Noah Laba, and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2025.

That’s not much to show for their former captain and a player that registered 99 points two seasons ago.

While this will go down as the worst move of Gorton’s tenure as GM, it’s easily offset with the acquisitions of Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox. Both those players were basically obtained for next to nothing in assets.

Of course, the players remaining could contribute to the roster in the future. Maybe that fourth-round pick in 2025 turns out to be a gem? It’s just hard not to see this as complete flop for the organization.

At the end of the day, fans are left looking at this trade tree with extreme disappointment. Many will also be wondering if the Rangers rushed this move. What if they had been more patient before selling off assets in the rebuild, could they have done better?

We will never know.


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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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