People look at the trade and can’t believe what the Canadiens, led by Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier were thinking. And in reality it turned out to be a horrible trade as McDonagh is someone who can help any team in the NHL. But there were some positives to the trade.
Let’s look at the Canadiens the day of the trade, back in July 2009. This was a team that collapsed in the second half of the season and got swept in four straight. Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang were all Unrestricted Free Agents. That was four of their top seven scorers. Mike Komisarek was leaving as well.
They needed to rebuild and with a young nucleus that included Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, the Kostitsyn brothers, Tomas Plekanec and others, they knew they needed to add veterans and change the culture.
Imagine going into free agency with your leading scorers being Andrei Markov, Andrei Kostitsyn and Plekanec. After that your best bets for scoring came from Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse and Chris Higgins. That’s not inspiring for veterans. It meant make a splash, or lead to a long rebuild.
By acquiring Gomez – who was actually pretty good in his first two seasons in Montreal – he had a chance to speak to his good friend Brian Gionta to sign with Montreal. Later that day, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill and Mike Cammalleri also signed.
It was a changing of the guard. And it all started with the Gomez trade that sent McDonagh to the Rangers along with Chris Higgins for Gomez and Tom Pyatt.
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It led to the fantastic 2010 run. Watch those highlights. Gomez was fantastic. He was also good in 2011 when they lost to the Boston Bruins in 7. While it was mostly smoke, mirrors and Jaroslav Halak, it was a fantastic ride. It brought back a certain vibe to the city and the team.
I’m about to get a little theoretical, so bare with me.
Imagine that 2010 run didn’t happen. We’d probably still be talking about Carey Price and Halak. Or worse: Price would have been the one traded. We’d be looking for someone like Lars Eller… And Alex Galchenyuk. Who knows how far down this team would have ended up. Instead of a temporary blip in last place after the 2011-2012 season, it could have been a lot worse.
Imagine if McDonagh wasn’t traded. Nathan Beaulieu would probably not be a Canadien. With depth on the blue line, it’s not out of the question the Canadiens would have gone with a forward in the 2011 Draft, say, Tyler Biggs in that spot. You know, because he’s big.
Without that 2010 run, the Canadiens would have never proven that skill beats size in the playoffs. Heck, people still aren’t sure that they can win with their small forwards.
So yes, McDonagh would look really good in a Canadiens uniform. But look at where we are. The Canadiens without McDonagh – or Gomez, or Cammalleri, or Halak – are facing the Rangers. The exact same spot. The exact same time.
The young core didn’t develop the way everyone thought it would. The Kostitsyn brothers are gone. Neither did Lapierre or Latendresse. For that matter, neither did Higgins. Pacioretty did. Price has. P.K. Subban developed into a star as well. David Desharnais came out of nowhere. Gomez’s buddy Gionta is the team’s captain and has become an indispensable piece of this team.
So yes, the trade was a bad one. But it wasn’t a franchise-crippling move. It led to the rebirth of the Canadiens post-Koivu. It allowed them to reload instead of rebuild.
So yes, Ryan McDonagh was a Montreal Canadiens prospect. And yes, he’s a great player. But the Canadiens are still kicking. They are one of four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs waiting for Game 1 at the Bell Centre. Is there any place else you’d rather be?