Veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh has been the Rangers captain, a cornerstone in the franchise for several years.
But as the trade deadline loomed, McDonagh, 28, figured he might be on the move, especially after the Rangers sent out a letter to fans saying they planned to rebuild.
"I could see it coming," McDonagh said Monday on a conference call. "I could feel it coming."
But once McDonagh found out he'd be joining several former Ranger teammates in Tampa Bay, he was thrilled. The Lightning is the top team in the Eastern Conference and got a lot better today in this blockbuster. The Rangers also sent forward J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay, which gave up Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, a first-round pick this year and conditional first next year.
"They're a top team in the league now and have been for a long time," McDonagh said. "Especially this season, there's some big expectations there and I hope to help be a part of."
McDonagh has been sidelined with an upper-body injury, and said it'd take him at least 5-7 days before he'd join the Lightning lineup. But GM Steve Yzerman told him "no rush."
"I've been skating for 7-8 days, skating-wise it's been good to be on the ice," McDonagh said. "But it's about getting with the team and practicing, that's going to help."
McDonagh, who has one more year on his contract at $4.7 million, said he traded texts with former Ranger teammate Dan Girardi, who is "pretty excited." Having former teammates Anton Stralman, Girardi, Ryan Callahan already on Tampa Bay will help Girardi's transition.
McDonagh is glad he'll be on the same side as elite scorers like Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman.
"It's definitely exciting to think about that," McDonagh said. "I just think about going up against these guys in practice what that's going to be like. It's a challenge when you play them once or twice a year. Hopefully I can form some good chemistry with the team and help that team go to another level."
Still it was a difficult day for McDonagh to leave New York.
"It's bittersweet," McDonagh said. "You leave an organization you've been a part of for eight years and had a lot of success and a lot of great memories, great playoff runs and met a lot of great teammates. That's what you take with you to your next destination."