Habs fans still lamenting loss of McDonagh

Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh skates against the Capitals during Game 1 of their NHL Eastern...

Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh skates against the Capitals during Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., April 28, 2012. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:21 PM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the Montreal Canadiens and their legions of loyal fans were optimistically ushering in the Marc Bergevin era Wednesday, a nightmarish reminder of bungling Habs regimes of the past was on full display in Washington.

Watching young New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh valiantly logging a game-high 53:21 of ice time in a marathon, triple overtime 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, you couldn't help but think of how good he would have looked in that fabled Canadiens bleu, blanc et rouge.

And, for that matter, how poorly Scott Gomez has played as a Hab.

In Ontario, fans continue to be polarized over the Phil Kessel deal, with the naysayers calling the swap that sent two first-round picks and a second-round selection to the Boston Bruins one of the worst in recent memory.

Say what you want about Kessel. At least he has scored 30-plus times in each of his three seasons with the Leafs, even though some still feel it was a steep price to pay.

Compare that to the situation in Montreal, where Habs fans must lament every time they see McDonagh playing such a key role in the Rangers' Stanley Cup playoff run.

In fact, speaking to Montreal-based reporters who are covering the Rangers-Capitals series, the swap involving McDonagh and Gomez is generally considered one of the worst in recent memory.

On June 30, 2009, McDonagh's rights were traded along with Christopher Higgins, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik to the Rangers for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, and Michael Busto. It is a day Habs-backers would rather forget.

In Gomez's first season in Montreal, he scored 12 goals. In the following campaign, he dropped to seven. And then, in 2011-12, he bottomed out, registering just two goals in 38 games.

Where Gomez hurts the Canadiens the most is in the wallet. Gomez has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him another $10 million. His deal also carries an annual salary cap hit of $7.3 million, which stings just as much, if not more.

All the while, McDonagh is emerging as one of the most solid blueliners in the NHL.

It took McDonagh about 30 minutes after Marian Gaborik had scored the winner on Caps rookie goalie Braden Holtby Wednesday night -- make that Thursday morning -- to address the press. Understandably so. After logging that many minutes, just peeling off his sweat-soaked equipment would be a chore.

In McDonagh's mind, it was all worth it, though. The blocked shots. The bruising hits. The double shifts. The exhaustion.

"It feels great to win that game," he said. "That's the best feeling ever.

"I had no clue (about the exact ice time). You just try and get out there and keep it simple and play hard, then come to the bench and get your breath as fast as you can. I mean, everybody put forth a hell of an effort. It's just a good character win in a tough playoff series."

What kept him going?

"Knowing that the guy next to me is doing the same," McDonagh said. "Whoever was out there battling, you could see it. Huge blocked shots ... Everybody was just putting forth a great effort."

The win was a huge momentum swing for the Rangers, who can take a stranglehold in the series by posting a victory in Game 4 at the Verizon Center Saturday.

All the while, rabid Habs fans, enthused that their beloved Canadiens are moving forward, must still look at McDonagh and wonder what might have been.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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