Big drama with the clock winding down — maybe it doesn’t encapsulate the Rangers’ season on the ice, but it aptly describes their season off it.
On Monday, with time ticking precipitously close to the 3 p.m. trade deadline, the Rangers pulled off a blockbuster deal. They sent captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, forward Vladislav Namestnikov, two prospects and a conditional high-round pick in 2019.
With the trade, the Rangers have proved true to their word: In early February, general manager Jeff Gorton and president Glen Sather announced that the team would begin to rebuild, and that likely would mean saying goodbye to a number of familiar faces. Before Monday, that meant Nick Holden, Michael Grabner and Rick Nash.
“Ryan in particular, our captain, [it was] very difficult,” Gorton said of the trade. “It’s a difficult business when you have to do certain things and make trades and make changes, but it’s necessary for what we want to do and where we want to go.”
In many ways, McDonagh’s trade signifies an even bigger commitment to change. The defenseman, who is close to returning from an upper-body injury, departs with one more year left on his contract. He’s also synonymous with Rangers hockey: a team captain who signed an entry-level contract with the team in 2010 and had been with the organization ever since.
Miller also is a lifelong Ranger. The winger, who has 13 goals and 27 assists this season, was drafted by the Blueshirts in 2011.
McDonagh and Miller now will be reunited with former Rangers Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan, who was the Blueshirts’ captain before being traded in 2013-14 (McDonagh was given the honor in 2014-15).
In addition to Namestnikov, the Rangers acquired center Brett Howden, 19, and defenseman Libor Hajek, 20. Both were playing in the WHL and both were selected in the 2016 draft — Howden in the first round, Hajek in the second.
McDonagh, who is set to make $4.7 million next season, has two goals and 24 assists in 49 games in 2017-18. He has averaged close to 24 minutes per game and has 129 blocks and 38 takeaways.
Namestnikov, 25, is in the midst of the best season of his four-year career — 20 goals, 24 assists — but will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
The Rangers have 10 picks in this year’s draft, including seven in the first three rounds.
“Our scouts are pretty active, thinking this is going to be a good draft,” Gorton said Sunday. “Because of the position we’re in, it made [these trades] less difficult. I think it was more important to get the best deal we could.”
The Rangers also traded AHL defenseman Ryan Graves to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday for Chris Bigras, who has played 46 games in the NHL.
“When we talk about the people who were traded by the Rangers — Ryan McDonagh, we’ll start with him, and Rick Nash and Grabner and J.T. Miller and Holden, they were all great guys,” Gorton said. “We’ve had a big week here where we’ve basically made a lot of trades with a rebuild in mind.”
The Rangers have built up a stockpile of mostly young players and high draft picks in their housecleaning the past week. The trade balance sheet:
Nick Holden to Boston
The return: Rob O’Gara, 24, D
2018 3rd-round draft pick
Michael Grabner to New Jersey
The return: Yegor Rykov, 20, D
2018 2nd-round draft pick
Rick Nash to Boston
The return: Ryan Lindgren, 20, D
Ryan Spooner, 26, F
Matt Beleskey, 29, F
2018 1st-round draft pick
2019 7th-round draft pick
Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay
The return: Vladislav Namestnikov, 25, F
Brett Howden, 20, F
Libor Hajek, 20, D
2018 1st-round draft pick
2019 high-round draft pick (conditional)