Now that the Rangers roster is rounding into shape, the next biggest question is who’s going to lead this team?
After trading away Ryan Callahan last March, the Rangers decided to go with three alternate captains instead of naming a new captain for the remainder of the season.
During the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup Final, Brad Richards took on the role of de facto captain, but he’s currently on the Blackhawks roster after being bought out leaving a gaping hole in the Blueshirts’ leadership group.
On break-up day, Alain Vigneault said he plans on getting input from certain players before naming a captain either right before or during training camp.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the top six candidates to become the 27th captain in Rangers history.
6. Dan Girardi
Obviously, one of the players who ended the season with a letter on his chest is going to be in running to become the next Rangers captain. Especially after signing a six-year, $33 million extension this past spring. Girardi is a warrior on the ice, who isn’t afraid to put his body on the line for the betterment of the team.
I mean, if that can’t inspire your teammates, nothing will. Girardi, as far as I can tell, is also well liked and respected in the locker room…
Having said all that, Girardi wasn’t originally in the Rangers leadership group last season and basically became a default option after the Callahan trade. He’s also not a very vocal leader or one who’s willing to get into the face of a teammate when necessary. Plus, a captain is someone who will stand-up for his teammates at any cost, not stand idly by…
I like Girardi, I really do, but not only doesn’t he deserve to be captain, I actually don’t think he should have any letter on his jersey at all.
5. Marc Staal
Staal is the other remaining leadership group holdover from last season, so he merits serious consideration. His courage to come back from two debilitating injuries should be enough to galvanize his teammates on a nightly basis, plus his longtime tenure with the Rangers is something that deserves respect.
Staal has been the team’s alternate captain during their first Eastern Conference Final appearance in 15 years and first visit to the Stanley Cup Finals in 20, so he’s obviously doing something right on and off the ice. The former 12th overall pick, also scored one of the most clutch overtime goals in Rangers playoff history…
Unfortunately, Staal’s tenure with the Rangers could be in serious doubt. Between the team’s cap situation and rumors of him possibly wanting to play with his brothers in Carolina, I’m not so sure bestowing the captaincy on a guy who might not be wearing a Blueshirt by the end of the season is such a good idea. In fact, I feel there’s better alternatives to wear an “A” than Staal as well.
4. Henrik Lundqvist
I know, I know…according to NHL rules a goaltender cannot have a “C” stitched on their jersey, but that didn’t stop Alain Vigneault from naming Roberto Luongo captain of the Canucks back in 2008. In my opinion, there’s never been a Rangers player, not even Mark Messier, who’s more determined and focused on bringing a Stanley Cup to New York than Lundqvist. I mean this picture of him in the locker room after giving up the Stanley Cup clinching goal in double overtime says it all…
I know Rod Gilbert is known as “Mr. Ranger” but Lundqvist is definitely the modern day version. He does an amazing job representing the Rangers franchise on and off the ice, while never shying away from the cameras no matter how heart breaking a loss.
Lundqvist was pointed to as one of the players who addressed the Rangers in the infamous “players only meeting” after they went down 3-1 to the Penguins this spring, so he’s proven to have influence within the locker room.
He can also be feisty in between the boards, while standing up for teammates when necessary. Especially when it involves Sidney Crosby…
My one issue with Lundqvist is that sometimes he can get too emotional on the ice and seems to show-up his teammates from time to time after a goal. That’s an absolute no-no for a captain, so I’m not sure he has the right temperament. Plus, I’d rather Lundqvist just focus on stopping pucks, not everything else that comes with wearing the “C” on your jersey…or mask in this case.
3. Mats Zuccarello
Since arriving in New York, Zuccarello has done nothing but put the Ranger franchise’s interests ahead of his own. You need me to sign a cap friendly deal to keep the team competitive? No problem. After luring me from my native country with dreams of playing in the NHL, you think I need to develop more in the AHL? Fine. After playing a full schedule in the KHL, I’m needed to save your season? Count me in.
Despite being the smallest player on the ice every night, he easily plays like the biggest. He’s the first guy to stand-up for a teammate and will never back down from a challenge. Not even from a guy twice his size…
While his in-game intensity will never be questioned on the ice, he can also lighten up a practice with his exaggerated goal celebrations or the locker room with his numerous antics…
Oh yeah, he’s a pretty damn good hockey player as well.
There’s not anything this guy won’t do for the Rangers organization or a teammate and that’s exactly what you want from a captain. Having said that, his off-ice quirkiness has me questioning whether he has the cachet to become a captain, but I sure as hell wouldn’t mind seeing him with a letter on his jersey this season.
2. Ryan McDonagh
Make no mistake about it, McDonagh has captain in waiting written all over him. He’s a presence on and off the ice and relishes the idea of taking on a leadership role (via CBS New York)…
“Being vocal, it’s a fun part of the game. You get guys energetic, you keep guys accountable and they do the same to you. Everybody builds around that.”
McDonagh’s teammates also see him as a future captain…
“His attitude is like a captain,” said Derrick Brassard during the Rangers playoff run.
Even his head coach gave him a semi-endorsement earlier last season…
“He can only get better as a leader on our team, assuming more responsibilities. He’s a great person. He’s got a real even keel to how he goes about himself. I think he’s going to become a real big part of our foundation and our team.”
I’d assume McDonagh would likely be more of a Callahan lead by example captain than an in your face Messier type. Although, the Minnesota native does seem like a guy who has the ability to send a message to a teammate through an icy stare when needed.
You always want your captain to be tough, and to me, McDonagh may be the toughest guy in the NHL. I mean anyone who can take this hit, get up and play two more periods of playoff overtime hockey is as rugged as they get…
While you don’t need to wear a letter to be a leader, McDonagh’s lack of experience in a leadership group and with the responsibilities that go along with it makes me hesitant to just hand him the “C.” Which is why I wouldn’t mind seeing him with an “A” on his sweater for a few seasons before handing the reigns over to him.
1. Martin St. Louis
St. Louis looked to be on his way towards being another high priced, past their prime super star who failed on Broadway after his trade from Tampa. But during the playoffs, Rangers fans were introduced to the real Martin St. Louis.
Even at the ripe old age of 38, he’s still one of the better players in the game, while his desire to win can never be questioned.
Obviously, the death of his mother not only brought him closer to his teammates but also with the fans. I’m not a sentimental guy, but I almost had tears in my eyes when he scored on Mother’s Day…
The more comfortable he became in his new surroundings, the more he expanded his role as a veteran leader. This post game scene after scoring that Mother’s Day goal was the moment he became a New York Ranger…
Damn, that was awesome.
The last three Rangers captains (Jagr, Drury & Callahan) were lead by example kind of guys. I think it’s time for more of an emotional leader to take charge of this franchise.
I felt there were times last season when the Rangers needed a jolt and there was no one there to provide it. The former Lightning captain will be that guy.
St. Louis’ intensity would definitely bring a nice balance to Vigneault’s more passive style offering a nice harmony within the locker room.
While St. Louis is in the final year of his contract, I’m pretty sure he didn’t force his way to the Rangers only to sign elsewhere after less than a season and a half. His performance in both the regular season and playoffs last year prove he still has plenty of hockey remaining and I assume Glen Sather would like that hockey to be played in a Rangers uniform for at least two more seasons. St. Louis would also make for a nice captaincy mentor for McDonagh before heading off into the sunset.
I know it seems ridiculous to advocate for a wholesale leadership change after a Stanley Cup Finals appearance but I think it would be best for the Rangers this season.
While understanding it wouldn’t be easy to strip letters from two veteran, home grown players, this is what I’d love to see as the Rangers leadership group this season:
Captain: Martin St. Louis
Alternate Captains: Ryan McDonagh & Mats Zuccarello
Would love to hear your thoughts on the Rangers leadership group for next season in the comments section.
H/T to callzor at Reddit Rangers for Zuccarello Goon pic.