Finally, at roughly 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, they consummated a trade that seemingly helps both sides.
The Rangers sent Scott Gomez and his hefty contract that still has five years and more than $30 million left on it to Montreal in exchange for Long Island, N.Y. native Christopher Higgins, who is a restricted free agent, but is likely to sign with the Rangers.
Montreal also sent the Rangers 2007 first-round draft pick Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and the rights to Doug Janik to New York while the Rangers gave up Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto.
The Rangers may view this trade as a salary dump to free up room to make another trade or to go on a shopping spree Wednesday. Dany Heatley is reportedly seeking a trade out of Ottawa and Senators GM Bryan Murray is listening to offers.
Rangers GM Glen Sather said during a 5:45 p.m. ET conference call that since the trade was announced he had fielded three calls.
"It doesn't take very long for people to recognize that you're going to make some changes," Sather said.
Sather praised Gomez, but also seemed relieved to get rid of the veteran center's contract, which he signed two years ago on the same day as Chris Drury. It was supposed to be a changing of the guard in New York, but the Rangers won only one playoff round with Gomez.
"It gives us a lot more options, more availability to do other things," Sather said. "We're not up against the cap now. We have lots of cap room. It just makes the options more inviting to us. I'm not sure what is going to happen. We also have depth with some of the kids we have in the minors. Torts (coach John Tortorella) has talked about the young guys and we wanted to make some room for them so we did."
The Canadiens, meanwhile, were the perfect trading partners for the Rangers. They were in the market for a center of Gomez's ilk and while they tendered a qualifying offer to Higgins, they obviously viewed him as expendable.
Rumors have swirled since NHL All-Star Weekend in January about Vincent Lecavalier going to Montreal in a trade, but that hasn't materialized. Recently, there were reports out of Montreal that if Henrik and Daniel Sedin don't re-sign with Vancouver, than Canadiens GM Bob Gainey had enough money remaining under the salary cap to scoop up the twins.
Gomez, though, struggled last season and had only 58 points, his lowest output since the 2004-05 work stoppage.
"We are extremely pleased to have acquired a player of the caliber of Scott Gomez," Montreal GM Bob Gainey said. "He is an outstanding playmaker and an excellent skater. Having won the Stanley Cup twice with the New Jersey Devils, he brings to our team a lot of playoff experience. Scott is an elite player who will certainly contribute to the success of our team for years to come."
Higgins is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on Wednesday, but Sather expressed little doubt in his ability to sign him. For his part, Higgins, who has a lot of family members living in New York City, said he was surprised and elated about the trade and fully expects to play for the home team at Madison Square Garden.
"I didn't expect to be traded," Higgins said. "I heard my name thrown around ever since I played in Montreal, but you never think it's actually going to happen. When it happened I was absolutely thrilled. If there was one place I would want to play outside of Montreal it's New York. Most of my family lives in the city. This is a dream come true for me."
Higgins put up a career-high 52 points in 82 games two seasons ago, but injuries limited him to just 23 points in 57 games this past season. He's a Long Island, N.Y. native, so a trade to a team in the Tri-State area could entice him to sign a long-term contract.
"He's been a goal scorer," Sather said of Higgins, who scored at least 20 goals in his first three seasons before 2008-09. "Last year he was hurt three times so he didn't have the year he expected. We think he's a terrific player and we're very happy to get him. He's also from the New York area and he's excited to be coming home. He's only 26 years old, a former first round pick. We think he's a good player and that's why we made the deal."
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