Rangers Shouldn’t Rush Filling Vacant Captaincy

Since the trade deadline, the New York Rangers have faced numerous questions: Who’s staying? Who’s leaving? How will the team look after the draft lottery? How will a new coaching staff flip the script and turn the franchise around?

Over the course of the offseason, many of these questions have been answered. Veterans such as Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash have been ushered out. Henrik Lundqvist has stated unequivocally that he intends to stay with the club. The team made history through the draft, selecting three players in the first round for the first time in franchise history. The new coaching staff has a proven track record, not to mention past relationships with multiple players on the roster.

While the puck has yet to be dropped on the 2018-19 season, fans can breathe a small sigh of relief. After so much uncertainty the team has finally begun to take shape. However, there is one question that is still being asked: Who will be the next captain?

Or, more importantly, do they need one right now?

Ushering in a New Era

The Rangers needed to make a change. That much was made clear after the disappointment of last season, with the club missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The team’s championship window had finally closed. In response, management sent an open letter to the fanbase, warning them of the adjustments to come. From that point on, the rebuild was in full effect.

At the trade deadline, the Rangers lived up to their promise, shipping out numerous familiar faces, including their captain, McDonagh, who was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It marked the second time in four years that the Rangers had traded their captain to the Lightning at the deadline, Ryan Callahan was traded in 2014.

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh
Former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

In the offseason, the club put itself back together, piece by piece. On May 23, former Boston University bench boss David Quinn was hired as the new head coach and right from the start, he faced questions about candidates for the position. In a conversation with NHL.com, Quinn made it clear that it wasn’t a must, saying:

“We’ve talked about it as an organization. I think a captain emerges. You don’t want to put a burden on somebody that isn’t ready for it. So, I think that will just happen one way or the other. It either will happen that someone will emerge and separate themselves as someone who is clearly going to be the captain, or it won’t happen. I think that will take care of itself.”

Still, there are a few Rangers players that come to mind that may fit the description.

Mats Zuccarello

One of the Rangers’ most popular players, the 30-year-old has been a mainstay since the 2012-13 season. The Broadway Blueshirt is the only NHL jersey the Norwegian has ever donned. He has also consistently been one of the Rangers’ top producers, leading the team in points in each of the previous three seasons.

Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers, NHL
Mats Zuccarello has led the Rangers in points in each of the last three seasons. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

While he lacks Steven Stamkos or Connor McDavid’s flare, his work ethic and reliability have made him admired in any locker room. Should a captain be named this season, don’t be surprised if Zuccarello gets the nod.

Chris Kreider

Following an injury-riddled season, where he was forced to watch the implosion of his team from the press box, Kreider is back at 100%. Rejuvenated, he brings his positive outlook to each and every game while registering 20+ goals more often than not. Kreider is crucial to the Rangers core and the winger has a history with Quinn, which makes him, potentially, an important factor in the team’s acceptance of the new coach’s system.

Brady Skjei

Skej is the most unlikely of candidates. Touted as one of the Rangers’ future stars, the 24-year-old defenseman averaged just over 21 minutes of ice time per game last season and has been vocal about the club’s younger players stepping up. If management wants to re-enforce the notion that there is a youth movement underway in Manhattan, Skjei could become the message, as captain. With the ink still drying on a new six-year deal, he’s pencilled in long-term.

To Captain or Not to Captain?

While the Rangers have enough talent to name a captain, why bother? Naming a captain doesn’t ensure success. In fact, given the way things have ended for the last two players to wear the C, it may bring the opposite for whoever is chosen.

Analyzing the changes made this offseason, it comes down to youth. The younger, faster players, will be looked to in order to right the ship and to bring many deep postseason runs. But, those things take time. Rookies and less-tenured Rangers will go through an adjustment period, dealing with the pressures of the NHL. On top of that, they will be doing so under a microscope in Rangerstown. Do they really need the burden of the captaincy as well?

Brady Skjei Rangers
Brady Skjei, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There is no doubt that Zuccarello or Kreider (or any veteran for that matter) would be fine choices for the captaincy. However, if the goal of the rebuild is to make major changes, why not let this season play out, at least in part, before thrusting it upon a player? Quinn doesn’t think it’s necessary.

And, there’s a team in Toronto that’s enjoyed a turn-around in recent years without a captain of their own. Why not do the same? What’s the harm? Ultimately, the team will do whatever it feels is best moving forward. If that includes naming a captain in the near future, great! If it doesn’t, perfect.

When it comes to naming the 29th captain in New York Rangers history, just relax. It’s bound to happen at some point.