After trading Ryan Callahan at the deadline, the New York Rangers now find themselves searching for a new leader with several players all capable of filling the role.
In Ryan Callahan the Rangers had a captain who led by example; a gritty forward who gave his all every shift and was capable of playing in any situation.
However, Brad Richards’ recent comments about Callahan seem to suggest that the next Ranger to wear the C will have to be far more vocal if he is to have the full backing of the locker room and be a success.
One of the standout candidates for the role is Marc Staal, the long-serving alternate captain of the club. The 27-year-old is one of the Rangers’ home-grown talents and grown into one of their most dependable players however an unfortunate run of injuries has blighted him in recent years.
Staal is a player who has paid his dues as a leader on the team although the current uncertainty over his long-term future does cast question marks over his suitability. The attraction of playing alongside his brothers, Eric and Jordan, in Carolina is understandably huge for Staal and the Rangers must quickly discover whether or not the Canadian wants to sign on the dotted line in New York or has his sights set on playing with his siblings when his deal expires at the end of next season.
The defenceman has said that he is keen to thrash out a new deal during the summer and if the Blueshirts can come to terms over a new contract then he may have a new letter on his jersey next season and become a Ranger for life.
Another cornerstone of the club is Dan Girardi, who recently signed a six-year, $33 million contract. Like Staal, the Rangers are the only NHL team that Girardi has played for during his career and his loyalty makes him another suitable candidate for the position.
The 29-year-old defenceman has grown into one of the Rangers’ key players since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2006 and is ranked as one of the top six shot blockers in the NHL over the last four seasons. Girardi regularly logs long minutes as a Ranger and has become one of the most reliable stay-at-home defencemen in the league.
The fact that Girardi has committed his future to the team could be a key factor in deciding who becomes the next Ranger to wear the C and the blueliner’s chances of being the next defenceman to captain the team since Brian Leetch from 1997-00 are pretty high.
One Ranger who has also signed a long-term deal with the team and has shown remarkable development in recent years is 24-year-old Ryan McDonagh. While some would point out that his youth may go against him in the captaincy debate, the Rangers handed Callahan the C aged just 26 showing that age is not a factor in their decision.
After being acquired in the now infamous Scott Gomez trade to Montreal, McDonagh has become a top line defenceman for the Rangers and many would argue that he is set to become their most important asset in the coming years.
Now in his fourth season with the Rangers, the American can play in any situation for his team and is rated highly by the organization and its fan base. McDonagh leads the Rangers in ice time logged this season and has contributed 11 goals and 25 assists for the Blueshirts – the highest points total of any defenceman on the roster and the fifth best overall.
If the Rangers decide to buyout Brad Richards during the summer then you can expect to see an A on McDonagh’s jersey next season, but it could be argued that taking the captaincy may be a step too far at this stage in his career.