Now that Ryan Callahan has been traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Rangers’ captaincy is now a vacancy. There’s currently no real word coming out of the Blueshirts organization as to who will be the 27th captain in franchise history; only speculation.
There are several names consistently swirling in the rumor mill, but only three of them are realistic and seem the most right of all the other possible candidates. Dan Girardi is one of the team’s most seasoned and grizzled veterans, and he’s definitely a top contender for the role.
Girardi was signed as a free agent in 2005 and was named as an interim assistant captain for the first time in 2011 and again for a second time during the lockout. He currently has the ‘A’ on his sweater, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if it were to be replaced with a ‘C’ come next season.
The Rangers don’t have the most promising depth, but there are some gritty and raw players within the system who have the potential to be among the most valuable in their respective positions, give or take a few seasons. Girardi was in a very similar spot when he started, and he has the chance to serve as a role model for those players in the system.
However, he hasn’t been playing as well as he was this season and isn’t the type of game-changer needed in a captain. A worthy and deserving choice, but also a strong assistant captain.
Also in the rumor mill for the captaincy is veteran defenseman Marc Staal. Unlike Girardi, Staal was a highly-touted prospect going into his draft and fell far enough for the Rangers to grab him by trading up for the 12th spot in 2005. He first started playing as a regular on the blue line in 2007 and since then has been one of the team’s most valuable assets.
In his relatively short career, Staal has distinguished himself as a shut-down defenseman capable of silencing the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. He recently said in an interview that he wants to stay with the Rangers and, unlike Girardi and Callahan, wants to wrap up contract discussions over the summer. It’s likely that, similar to Girardi, Staal will remain on the blue line for the rest of his career.
Staal would be a good captain for the Rangers for many of the same reasons why Girardi would be a good Captain. They’re both considered to be among the best in their field and they’ve both showed their commitment (or desired commitment, as Staal hasn’t yet signed with the Rangers but will likely do so) to the club.
However, Staal has more edge over Girardi. Even though he’s a shut-down defenseman, Staal has come up with several key goals in the playoffs. It was only two years ago when he came up with the OT goal against the Capitals that kept the Rangers in the postseason fight. He’s more the game-changer that a captain needs to be than Callahan.
But he does get injured. Not only that, but he gets injured a lot. Staal would be a great Captain, but his injury record is worrisome for anyone seriously being considered as captain.
Cat’s Pick: Ryan McDonagh
Ryan McDonagh is the youngest of the three most likely candidates and the only one who hasn’t had experience in a team leadership position. With that being said, it wouldn’t be totally surprising or totally wrong to put him as captain. In fact, he’s probably the best and safest choice for the role.
McDonagh has been asked to step up to the plate in the wake of Staal’s injuries and Girardi’s flounderings and he has delivered every single time. There have been so few times where he hasn’t played well and, even though he hasn’t reached his prime, he has more than proved himself to the Rangers faithful.
The downside to having McDonagh serve as captain is his experience level and seniority on the team. He hasn’t had a title as a team leader while several other players have. Not only does he have to go up against the likes of Girardi and Staal for the role, but there’s also Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, who have each served in leadership roles before. Should McDonagh be named captain, there are plenty of egos he will have to combat if he’s named captain.
Despite his youth and inexperience as a titled leader, he’s the best choice for the position. Henrik Lundqvist is the man who gives the Rangers a chance, and McDonagh is starting to come into his own as that sort of player for the Rangers as well. His story may not be as blue-collared as Girardi’s and he may not yet be the game-changer that Staal is, but every sign is pointing to him being that player. He takes the best of both Girardi and Staal without the baggage and can be the man best-suited for the job.