"Well we think Higgins is a goal scorer and we're very happy to have him," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "McDonagh is certainly a player that's going to play in the NHL as well as Valentenko. We got two good prospects in this deal. It gives us some options tomorrow when free agency comes along. I think there's going to be quite a few options available."
The Rangers have been trying to deal Gomez since their season ended. The 29-year-old Alaskan, whose career-high point total was 84 in 2005-06 with the Devils, dipped to 58 points last season (16 goals, 42 assists) in 77 games while earning $8 million. It was his lowest offensive output since 2002-03 in New Jersey.
"I think Scott's a very good player," Sather said. "He's a really good guy. He worked hard. He was exceptional with the team and in the dressing room. I have no complaints about him. He's a terrific guy and he'll do well in Montreal."
Gomez has five years and $33.5 million left on his deal -- $8 million next season, $8 million in 2010-11, $7.5 million in 2011-12, $5.5 million in 2012-13 and $4.5 million in 2013-14. Gomez's cap hit of $7.37 for 2009-10 is the sixth-highest in the league.
After winning two Stanley Cup titles with the Devils, Gomez was part of the Rangers' rebuilding program when he signed his big deal the same day fellow center Chris Drury left the Buffalo Sabres for a lucrative contract with New York.
"He is an outstanding playmaker and an excellent skater," Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey said in a statement. "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."
By removing Gomez's deal from the team, Sather has freed up cap space that could be used to acquire a primary scorer.
"It gives us a lot more options or availability to do other things," Sather said. "We're not up against the cap now. We've got lots of cap room. It just makes the options more inviting to us. Now, I'm not sure what's going to happen. We also have some depth with some of the kids we have in the minors and we wanted to make some room for those guys."
Ottawa Senators forward Dany Heatley, a natural goal scorer, has asked to be traded and could possibly land in New York. Forwards Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik are also attractive options that could be available on the free-agent market Wednesday.
"Since this deal has happened, I've had three calls," Sather said of potential trades. "It doesn't take very long for people to recognize that you're going to make some changes."
Higgins, 26, is a restricted free agent. He also disappointed last season, putting up only 23 points in 57 games. While he is unsigned, Higgins will still come at a cheaper cost than Gomez. He earned $1.7 million in his final season with Montreal. In 282 NHL games, all with the Canadiens, Higgins has 84 goals and 67 assists.
"I didn't expect to be traded," he said. "I heard my name thrown around ever since I've played in Montreal. You never think it's actually going to happen. You always think it's just somebody in the Montreal media making something up.
"When it happened, I was absolutely thrilled. If there was one place I would play besides Montreal, it would be with the Rangers in front of my family and friends."
Higgins scored a career-high 27 goals in the 2007-08 season when he played in all 82 games.
"I suppose it won't be any more pressure than I had playing in Montreal," Higgins said. "Everybody is well aware of the pressure that comes with playing up there. I've grown up here. I know what the Rangers fans are all about. I know they are very hard on their players, and I expect no different than the last four years I had in Montreal."
Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.