There is always a ton of hoopla when there is a decision that involves choosing a player to adorn a three-inch crest on their chest. That three-inch piece of fabric is constructed in a "C" shape and stands for captain, a role the New York Rangers will re-define in 2014-15.
It was Ryan Callahan officially (and then Brad Richards unofficially), but there will be a different player sporting the fabled fabric this year.
Who should it be?
In a sport whose culture surrounding the bonds and conversations within the confines of "the room" is rich, a discussion on this subject seems arbitrary. In other words, it may seem silly to get up in arms over who represents the team on the ice when there are things going on behind the scenes that the common man or woman isn't privy to.
However, leadership is a quality valued in the game of hockey, and whenever the captaincy is discussed, names like Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Jean Beliveau come to mind.
These men were amazing hockey players, and they were revered for their ability to lead their teammates in a way that made them successful.
Although players don't need a letter to lead, the captaincy is still an honor that should be talked about.
In 2014-15, Martin St. Louis is a leading candidate to wear the "C" because of his experience and ability to relate to the room, but the man who should be the next captain is Ryan McDonagh.
McDonagh may be 25 years young, and the notion of him giving orders in place of the sage veteran St. Louis may be hard to comprehend, but the Rangers' budding blueliner is an old soul whose message would be received in a positive way by a player of St. Louis' stature.
Katie Strang of ESPN.com summed it up best in a column that talked about McDonagh and the reverence he shows toward his nation:
It's not until the American flag, and often the U.S. serviceman or woman carrying it, exits the ice that he skates off for the last few seconds of pregame preparation.
It's just a thing he does, he says, to show appreciation for his country and those who serve. It's a simple token of respect.
At a time in the game when the very notion of respect is a hot topic of debate, McDonagh represents a throwback of sorts. Still young at just 24, he embodies the old-school, blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes hockey player of previous generations, a player who embraces the concept of loyalty, commitment, honor and, most importantly, respect.
Having witnessed this tradition many times in person, it is certainly something that takes your breath away and keeps your eyes fixed on Old Glory even though John Amirante has finished the last bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to interview McDonagh, or listen to him give a postgame interview on television, will tell you the same thing about him. They will say that he is respectful, reserved and very focused.
He's a player that has matured not only in his play on ice but also in his development as a character on the hockey team. In Strang's feature on McDonagh, the Saint Paul, Minnesota, native mentioned how he has become a more vocal player:
I feel like I'm taking a lot more of a role in that [leadership] department, speaking up a little bit more in team meetings, in between periods, stuff like that. More importantly, for me, I think, is just to continue to stand up in my role on the ice.
McDonagh surely showed it this season, as there were numerous occasions in which television cameras would catch the rearguard talking and pointing things out to his fellow teammates. This is something amazing to see, even more so when you consider that defenders typically mature slower than forwards.
After a career season, McDonagh was asked about being a captain on breakup day, and Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News had this quote:
Absolutely. I feel this year, with the way my play was escalating, I felt more confident as the year was going on. I think when you’ve been given a lot more responsibility — I was kind of able to step up and help our team win a lot of games — I think that helps. Guys believe and rally around you when you say something in the room, guys follow in behind and want to do better.
McDonagh is a young player, one that has grown tremendously since coming to New York in a deal for Scott Gomez. He put in his time in college, took a stint in the AHL and earned time in the NHL through hard work and dedication.
He's the perfect face for a franchise that has been attempting to build through its system over the past few years.
While general manager Glen Sather still likes to make big trades and big splashes through free agency, key players on this roster are a product of the farm system.
|Dan Girardi||2006||Undrafted Free Agent|
|Mats Zuccarello||2010||Undrafted Free Agent|
|New York Rangers' roster|
Though McDonagh technically isn't a true homegrown player, he was nothing before coming to the Rangers. He was developed as a Ranger, and that makes him homegrown enough for me.
McDonagh deserves to join the fraternity of leaders that includes greats like Messier, Brian Leetch, Bill Cook, Andy Bathgate, Brad Park, Harry Howell and assorted others.
He has led by example on the ice with his play, he has shown he is mature beyond his years and he is the type of player that you want to be synonymous with the Rangers.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported in June that head coach Alain Vigneault would make a decision during training camp.
From this keyboard, it appears the decision will likely be between McDonagh and St. Louis. Both would be worthy leaders, but choosing McDonagh would be the right choice if he wants it.
This debate will come to an end soon enough, and that will mean that we are that much closer to the start of the 2014-15 NHL season.