With the departure of Ryan Callahan roughly three weeks ago, the New York Rangers have been rendered captainless.
According to the New York Post's Larry Brooks and Brett Cyrgalis, that’s how the club will remain until at least the offseason.
It may not be the popular choice, as not naming a new captain gives the impression that Callahan cannot be replaced. Furthermore, a team that loses its captain needs direction and not naming one could leave it in the balance.
That’s neither here nor there at the moment. The Rangers will utilize a three-man leadership unit comprised of Marc Staal, Brad Richards and Dan Girardi for the remainder of 2013-14.
A decision still looms over Alain Vigneault’s head, although I’m sure he’s not investing too much thought into it at this point. Eventually, however, a designated leader will have to be named.
Seeing as Staal, Richards and Girardi are already alternate captains, it’s safe to assume they’ll all be seriously considered.
But with the possibility of Richards being bought out—as well as his age and declining play—and the uncertain future (injury, contract) of Staal, Girardi seems like the logical choice.
He’s one of the league’s best shutdown defensemen and eats up important minutes. In addition, he’s great with the media and one of the most charismatic players on the team.
I think Girardi would be a fine choice, but not necessarily the best choice.
Personally, I hope Vigneault will look past the obvious candidates in current letter-bearers and former captains of other clubs (Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis) and make the correct choice, which is Ryan McDonagh.
New York sent the atrocious contract of free-agent bust Scott Gomez along with Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto to Montreal in exchange for McDonagh, Chris Higgins, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik in June of 2009.
Fast-forward three-and-a-half years and Gomez is being bought out by Montreal while McDonagh is solidifying himself as one of the league’s best young defensemen.
As one of the best skaters in the world, the 24-year-old makes it look easy when he successfully shuts down the league’s elite, even though it’s incredibly difficult. He and his stick are always in the right position and he’s willing to sacrifice his body for the his team, making him a great teammate.
In less than four seasons in the NHL, he’s forced his way into the Norris Trophy conversation.
Seeing as he’s easily in the league's top five in terms of defensive ability and—before play on March 26—12th amongst defensemen in scoring, his time could come in the not-so-distant future.
Save for Henrik Lundqvist, McDonagh is the best player on the Rangers. Although there are many teams in the league that appoint their best players as captain, for me, it’s the St. Paul, Minn., native’s drive, focus and compete level that make him the obvious choice as the Rangers’ 27th captain.
New York has and always will demand its players to perform on a nightly basis, and when it comes to hockey, they’ll get eaten alive by the fans if they lack intensity. The unfortunate truth is this current incarnation of the Broadway Blueshirts has been criticized at times for its lack of intensity and urgency.
Those criticisms have never applied to McDonagh—as well as a handful of other players—and with a leadership role, he could help motivate his club.
Who should be the next Rangers captain?
Amongst skaters, he has become the heartbeat of the team, and that’s the type of player that should be captain—not quiet, inconsistent veterans like Richards, Staal and Nash.
Essentially, McDonagh possesses everything you could want in a captain. He harnesses a unique blend of intensity, talent and drive, not to mention he’s young and just signed a cap-friendly, long-term contract with the club.
Don’t just take my word for it, take Nash’s too. He told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News that McDonagh is the "leading candidate" for the team's captaincy.
McDonagh and Lundqvist are the anchors of the team and possess all that embodies prototypical Blueshirt favorites.
Staal, Richards, Girardi, Nash and St. Louis may have been around longer and have experience in designated leadership roles, but when comparing those players to McDonagh, it’s evident they are complementary pieces meant to surround the integral superstar defenseman.